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Scarborough pursues Higgins Beach property acquisition through the Trust for Public Land

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Scarborough pursues Higgins Beach property acquisition through the Trust for Public Land

SCARBOROUGH — The town is working with a national land conservation nonprofit for the purchase of land to ensure parking at Higgins Beach and preserve a stretch of land along the Nonesuch River.

Members of the Vasile family own the five properties, two of which are at 39 and 43 Ocean Ave. near the beach. The other three are on Mussey Road and back up to the river.

The process of obtaining the beach properties began when Ron Owens was still town manager, current Town Manager Tom Hall said. The two adjacent parcels, totalling about 1.5 acres, have been used for public parking. According to Scarborough assessment records online, the total value of the land is nearly $1.3 million.

As discussions continued, the deal expanded, with the three Mussey Road properties thrown in by the family, Hall said.Town assessment records show these three properties have a combined value of $20,000. All three properties are in the shoreland zone, with about half listed under resource protection.

"They are of value to the town for conservation, which is a goal of the Comprehensive Plan," Hall said at last week's Town Council meeting. "The family has thrown these in; it looks as though these properties would rate fairly high in the land bond funds process of purchasing properties."

The town is working out details of the agreement with the assistance of the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national organization that helps negotiate terms of acquisition of conservation properties directly with the seller. TPL does not act as a broker; it enters into a purchase and sales agreement at a price generally at or below fair market value. It then conveys the property to the agency – in this case, the town of Scarborough – usually for the same purchase price.

As part of the process, TPL helps identify possible funding sources for the property and, at times, assists in fundraising efforts through charitable campaigns or voter initiatives.

Under the terms of an agreement between the town and TPL, if recommended by the Scarborough Parks and Conservation Board and approved by the Town Council, Scarborough will provide matching funds of up to $635,000 for the properties. In addition, TPL will assist the town in obtaining funding sources, which could include funds from the Public Access to Maine's Waters Fund through the Land for Maine's Future Board.

"I've had a lot of positive feedback from the Higgins Beach neighborhood," Hall said Wednesday. "All comments have been extremely positive."

A 1998 Higgins Beach management plan included neighborhood recommendations for public parking at the beach, Hall said.

Councilors at last week's meeting were enthusiastic about the possible land acquisition.

"I think it's terrific; I hope it moves forward quickly," Councilor Ron Ahlquist said.

The Council was unanimous in its support for Hall to move forward with the negotiations. Regarding the time frame, Hall said Wednesday "the sooner the better" for the town. But he said he isn't sure of the Vasile family's preference for tax purposes, adding that he wants to be sure to accommodate their needs.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.