Topsham soccer club may take fields proposal out of Freeport
FREEPORT — After nearly three years of working with the town to build a recreation facility and turf playing fields, Seacoast United soccer club is exploring moving the project to another community.
The decision follows several setbacks for the proposal in Freeport.
Most recently, the Planning Board voted 4-3 on Nov. 2 against making a recommendation to the Town Council to create an overlay district to allow the indoor facility in the Rural Residential 1 zone, specifically near the town-owned Hunter Road fields.
The board also unanimously agreed not to allow recreational outdoor facilities in all of RR-1, a district that makes up 70 percent of the town.
Michael Healy, a spokesman for Seacoast United, said the Topsham-based nonprofit is still looking for ways to make the project fit in Freeport, but has also started to look for another host.
"We will look to relocate in Freeport or outside Freeport," Healy said.
After the Planning Board decision, which was an advisory vote, Healy met with the Town Planner, town councilors and the town attorney to discuss options that would make the project fit, including amending the zoning ordinance to establish an overlay district, creating a new recreational zone, or adding an additional permitted use to the zone.
They also discussed renegotiating the contract between the club and town, so that Freeport would own the land and buildings and would lease them back to the soccer club. Seacoast would have an option to purchase or renew the lease at the end of the term and would finance and construct the improvements.
Since municipal facilities and for-profit outdoor facilities are permitted uses in the RR-1 zone and indoor, nonprofit facilities are not permitted uses, this arrangement would solve the zoning problem.
But Healy said the option to lease the land back to Seacoast was taken "off the table "at a Nov. 30 meeting.
"After discussions, we realized it would not be a feasible option for the town or Seacoast," he said.
The soccer club may ask the town for an overlay district or zoning change, but those options are up to the town, he said.
"What we did is take the municipal deal off the table," Healy said. "We will continue to pursue all other options, looking at other locations and other towns, but we will not give up on the project."
Healy would not disclose where the club is looking.
Town Manager Dale Olmstead said he would hate to see the Seacoast arena developed outside Freeport, but said he understands "where Seacoast is coming from and that they have to look at all of their options."
Healy also said if the arena is not built on the property near the town landfill, the proposed turf fields Seacoast agreed to build near the Hunter Road fields would not be built, either.
According to David Latulippe, one of the founders of the Hunter Road fields project, the removal of the planned turf fields will not change the Hunter Road project.
"This was always set up as a stand-alone project," Latulippe said.
He said when Seacoast United encountered wetland permitting issues and couldn't build turf fields on a portion of their property, the Hunter Road group gave them the use of their land to build a turf field in exchange for six months of free use.
"(The free field use) has significant value to the community," he said, and to the high school teams who have had to cancel games due to inclement weather this fall.
But, Latulippe said, the Hunter Road project was planned so that it was not at the mercy of the Seacoast project.
The Town Council will hold a workshop on Seacoast United on Tuesday, Jan. 17, from 5-7 p.m. in Town Hall.