Cumberland to consider fire station expansion

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CUMBERLAND — An expansion of the nearly 50-year-old Central Fire Station may be in the works.

The Town Council on Monday unanimously voted to form a committee to explore the project.

Councilors also heard an update on a court appeal over Cumberland’s use of the former Payson property; voted to reconsider their decision last month on snowmobile access to part of the Town Forest, and appointed John Brushwein the town’s new assessor.

“We have many more challenges as a department” now, compared to when the fire station at 366 Tuttle Road was built, Town Manager Bill Shane told the council, noting that the department now fully services fire and emergency medical service calls. He said it is time for the town to inventory the facility’s current space and determine how well the department is able to meet its mission statement.

The town more than 20 years ago purchased a house next to the fire station, and has been using it for sleeping quarters for emergency personnel, according to Shane.

“It was always envisioned that any expansion would take place in that direction,” he said.

Along with looking into the space and storage, the building committee will inventory the station’s apparatus, and come up with a department needs analysis, an assessment of the building, and a conceptual site plan. An architect will also be hired to form a preliminary design report for Town Council review, which will include a cost estimate.

The committee will send the council a comprehensive report and recommendation by Nov. 28. Design could take place early next year, with the project going out to bid later that year and completed in 2018.

“It is a methodical process, and it is a significant investment,” Shane said.

The project would be bonded using tax increment financing funds, based on  revenues the town collects from new infrastructure as part of the ongoing natural gas line installation project, the manager noted. The council would vote on the bonding.

Seven members of the public, and at least two councilors, will sit on the committee, which will be supported by Shane and other staff. Those interested in serving can download an application at cumberlandmaine.com or call 829-2205. Applications must be submitted by Jan. 28.

Payson lawsuit

Later in the meeting, Shane told councilors he had been informed earlier in the day that the Maine Superior Court upheld the town code enforcement officer’s August 2015 decision that municipal uses are permitted in Cumberland’s Limited Density Residential Zone, where the former Payson property – now called the Broad Cove Reserve – is located.

“The challenge to us by the Payson heirs is that it wasn’t listed in our zoning ordinance, therefore it wasn’t allowed, therefore it should have never been allowed,” Shane said.

The heirs have 21 days to appeal the decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Shane said. Their attorney, Scott Anderson, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The town purchased the property – which includes 2,200 feet of shoreline and a 200-foot pier – for $3 million in December 2014 from Portland-based developer Bateman Partners. Bateman earlier that year bought roughly 100 acres from Spears Hill LLC, which represents the family of the late Marion Payson.

The Payson heirs are suing the town and Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust over the town’s proposed use of the property. The land trust has been the property’s steward since the 1997 establishment of a conservation easement for the parcel.

The family appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court after Maine Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills dismissed their case in May 2015.

After the Cumberland Planning Board unanimously approved the town’s parking and access plan for Broad Cove in July 2015, the heirs took the matter to the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

The ZBA in August 2015 upheld a determination by the code enforcement officer that the area was being utilized as a “municipal use” and allowed in that zone, causing the heirs to file the appeal in Superior Court. That town decision was upheld by the court this week, while the original lawsuit remains before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Reconsidered decision

The Town Council voted 5-2 to reconsider its Dec. 28, 2015 decision to allow the Moonlight Skimmers Snowmobile Club to access part of the Town Forest trail.

The Town Lands and Conservation Commission, which had recommended the Town Council not allow snowmobiles on the Town Forest trail, except at snowmobile crossings, asked the panel to reconsider its vote.

Commission Chairman Sam York, directed by his group to make the request, asked that a public hearing on the matter not be held until the council’s Jan. 25 meeting, to allow time for both the commission and club to prepare arguments.

Councilor Ron Copp, who had voted to allow the club to use the trail, made the motion to reconsider the council’s action on Jan. 25.

“I haven’t changed my mind, but I feel I owe it to the Conservation Commission,” he said. “… I think they need to stress some points that we didn’t hear at the last meeting, and I think the snowmobile club should have due diligence, too.”

Councilor Mike Edes, who voted with fellow Councilor Bill Stiles against the motion, noted that both sides had a chance to speak last month, that the council made its decision, and that he saw no need for further discussion.

New assessor

The Town Council unanimously authorized Shane to enter into a shared assessing services agreement with the town of Gray, and appointed Gray’s assessor, John Brushwein, as the Cumberland assessor as well. The Town Council had on Dec. 28, 2015, unanimously supported discontinuing its contract with Cumberland County for assessing services.

“Unfortunately,” Shane wrote in a Dec. 29 letter to County Manager Peter Crichton, the county program “did not meet the expectations of the Town Council and its desire to deliver a more personalized level of service as it related to taxation of property within the community.”

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

Cumberland is exploring the expansion of its Central Fire Station, a nearly 50-year-old structure on Tuttle 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.