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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday unanimously backed the acquisition of more than 51 acres of undeveloped land for conservation and public access.
Some councilors had reservations about the purchase after an appraisal of the parcel, expressing doubts about the town accumulating more land and spending money that could go toward other uses.
But the proximity to Cumberland’s 221-acre Rines Forest – which would accommodate parking off Range Road, and improve safety for patrons who have been parking along the road – as well as funding from the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, proved convincing.
The town will purchase the property for $414,000 from Dale Rines, a forester from whom the town bought most of the other forest property in 2003 for $1.2 million. The property has been in Rines’ family for several generations; he approached the town about buying it, to maintain it in its current state.
The land trust has so far raised almost $100,000 toward the purchase, about half of its goal, CCLT President Penny Asherman told the council Monday. She said she expects the funds to be in hand by next June, with a closing on the property July 1, 2019.
When that happens, the existing Rines Forest conservation easement would be expanded to include the new acreage.
Funds for the town’s payment of the balance, to be made over the next three years to reduce the immediate financial impact, would come from Cumberland’s $320,000 land acquisition reserve.
Over three years, the estimated annual payment would be $148,900 at 5 percent interest, with interest ultimately totaling nearly $38,000, according to Town Manager Bill Shane.
With the 2003 purchase, the town secured a right of first refusal for the remaining acreage. Rines had chosen not to sell it at the time in case his family wanted to build homes there. When that did not happen, he approached the town about buying the remaining acreage.
James Mallar, CCLT’s new executive director, spoke to the importance of the parcel as a wildlife and recreation corridor that sits in Cumberland’s rural area, as opposed to the town’s growth section.
Planning Board Chairman Steve Moriarty, who had served on the council at the time of the 2003 acquisition, said he might not have supported the annexation if it was “somewhere in town, in isolation, and not abutting any town property, and not abutting any protected property.”
But the parcel “blends so nicely and perfectly” with the town’s existing acreage, Moriarty said. “It completes the project that was started 15 years ago.”
The Council Chambers was packed with supporters of the purchase, many of whom spoke during the roughly 90-minute discussion. Brad Hilton was the only resident to speak in opposition.
“I like trails, but I’m also a guy that looks at budgets,” Hilton said. He said there is a limit to what the town can afford and he would rather see the reserve funds go toward finding land to relocate the town garage, or toward relieving the tax burden on residents.
“There is a silent majority out there that is concerned with the allocation of resources,” Councilor Peter Bingham said, noting the need for capital expenses like road work. “… An allocation of resources is a legitimate concern, and it’s a concern of a lot of the people who aren’t here tonight.”
But given the parcel’s lack of development possibilities and CCLT’s contribution of funds, “I think it probably makes sense to purchase this,” Bingham said.
With CCLT’s fundraising in mind, Councilor Tom Gruber sought to amend the motion to have Shane return to the council for approval if the town’s outlay exceeds $300,000. That amendment failed, and the original motion passed unanimously.
Councilor George Turner, who has expressed concerns about the town buying any more land, pointed out that “if you took the people who are living near the property, who use the property, out of this room, we’d be 90 percent vacant. And we as councilors represent the whole town, as we all know.”
But the argument that most convinced him to support the purchase was the ability to create off-road parking on already-cleared land, providing “an environment over there where more people will go and use the Rines Forest,” Turner said.
“I’ll bet three-quarters of the people in this town have never set foot (there),” he said, “… but I think we can encourage them to if they find it a little easier.”
Penny Asherman, president of the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, speaks in support Monday of Cumberland’s aquisition of 51 1/2 acres of undeveloped land next to Rines Forest.
The Cumberland Town Council on Monday approved the purchase of 51 1/2 acres of undeveloped property to expand Rines Forest.