Cumberland residents bristle at plan to move town garage to Skillin Road

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CUMBERLAND — After hearing from nearly 40 residents Monday in a hearing that spanned two hours, the Town Council tabled a proposal to move the town’s public works garage to riding-club property at 68 Skillin Road.

Skillin Road residents strongly opposed the move, expressing concerns about impact of the facility and related operations like a sand and salt shed on natural resources and traffic in their rural part of town.

Neighbors of the existing facility at 23 Drowne Road, meanwhile, praised the town for exploring options for relocation.

Expressing the “not in my back yard” sentiment that people have concerning the notion of a public works garage nearby, Councilor George Turner said, “we’re all NIMBYs, every blasted one of us. … If we’re honest, we can think of all kinds of uses that we sure as hell wouldn’t want in our back yard.”

Turner echoed Councilor Shirley Storey-King, saying he could reject the proposed move that night. “I think we can do better,” he said.

Council Chairman Ron Copp said the panel would return to the matter at an unspecified later date.

Bateman Partners, which has developed Village Green around the garage in recent years, has eyed the garage site to complete its project. Residents of that development have said they bought their homes thinking that the facility would be moved. But there is no written agreement for the move to occur, and the garage could stay put, Town Manager Bill Shane told the nearly standing-room-only audience.

The 45-year-old garage requires ventilation, lighting and electrical system upgrades, and staying put would cost $3 million, Shane said.

The Town Council has considered various places for the garage, but each one has fallen through. Neighbors previously opposed a vacant area north of the Cumberland Fairgrounds and one next to the Town Forest.

“We need to relocate in either a commercial or industrial zone,” which is not much of the town, Copp said. “It is so hard to find a site where nobody is going to be offended … I don’t know where that site is.”

“We are at our wit’s end,” he added. “We do need to move this (garage).”

Had the council supported the move, it could have voted Oct. 22 to borrow up to $8.6 million for the project. An original bond amount of $10 million included $1.3 million for a fire ladder truck; that was later removed from the proposed borrowing.

The proposed site has a potential vernal pool, but the town  must wait until spring to determine its significance, Shane said. The project can be permitted at the site, he noted, pointing out that because monitoring wells and added containment would be needed due to its location on the West Cumberland Aquifer, construction costs would be more expensive.

The move was to occur in two phases. The first, aimed for 2019-2020, would include relocating the salt building along with a new sand building and the compost and brush.

The second, eyed for 2024 completion, would see construction of a 12,000-square-foot public works building, which would house five 2,000-square-foot bays, lunch and locker rooms, a wash bay and office areas for town and School Administrative District 51 staff.

John Lowery, president of the Village Green Homeowners Association, noted that the existing garage site is “clearly insufficient for the growing needs of our town,” sits on a valuable parcel in the center of town that could generate significant tax revenue, and is incompatible with the surrounding residential uses.

Lowery said he empathized with Skillin Road residents’ concerns, did not want to see neighborhoods pitted against each other, and hoped the community could collaborate to achieve common ground.

Paul Weiss, a biologist who serves on the Trails Subcommittee of the town’s Lands & Conservation Commission, said he was “pretty outraged by this project,” and was surprised by it.

“This is a huge wildlife area,” Weiss said. “… It’s a riparian area; it’s one of the most important aquifers in West Cumberland.”

It is irrelevant whether the vernal pools on the property meet state criteria for significance, Weiss said, adding that “it’s critical habitat that’s going to be obliterated by parking lots, salt sheds, antifreeze, asbestos-lining brakes, anything that comes off of a giant complex like that.”

Weiss noted that the $3 million cost to upgrade the existing facility is far cheaper than the cost to move and rebuild it.

He said he moved to Cumberland because he liked its rural character, “and when I hear these town plans of continual development, more sprawl, to heck with that. … We’re sick and tired of the town spending huge amounts of money to look like Connecticut.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Residents packed the Cumberland Town Hall Council Chambers Monday to express varying viewpoints on the town’s proposed move of its public works garage to Skillin Road.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.