Development vote dominates North Yarmouth candidates forum

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The Nov. 3 Village Center development referendum dominated discussion at a candidates forum Monday ahead of next week’s special Board of Selectman election.

Jim Moulton of Mill Road and Keith Thompson of Bryn Lane are competing in the Monday, Sept. 21, special election for the seat vacated in June by Clark Whittier.

Thompson, 65, is a retired aviator and chairman of the Spring Point Ledge Light Trust in South Portland, according to his website, He is married and has lived in North Yarmouth for 17 years. He was narrowly defeated by Jeanne Chadbourne in the June Board of Selectmen election.

Moulton has lived in North Yarmouth 63 of his 66 years, is married, and has two daughters and five grandchildren. The owner of Jim’s Auto Repair has served on many committees, including 12 years on the Board of Selectmen, most recently from 2005 to 2008, and the School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors from 2002-2005 and 2012-2015.

Tuesday’s forum, held at Town Hall, was moderated by Communications Committee member and former Selectman Darla Hamlin, who asked the candidates a series of questions. The discussion often came back to the biggest issue facing the town – competing referendum questions about development of the Village Center.

The Board of Selectmen is recommending that North Yarmouth Memorial School, closed in June 2014, be redeveloped as a municipal and community campus. The existing Town Hall would be sold for housing or commercial development, and a municipal sewer system would be created to help facilitate new development.

The second question is the result of a successful citizen petition opposing the selectmen’s plan.

It calls for the town to stop all spending and work concerning the study or development of a sewer system; rebuilding of Wescustogo Hall, the community gathering place destroyed by fire in August 2013, as called for in a 1997 agreement with the town; maintaining the current Town Hall and making any necessary renovations or additions; seeking proposals for the school building, gathering citizen feedback on all of the proposals received, and sending a recommended plan for the school to a town vote.

“I don’t have any allegiance, particularly, to either side,” Thompson said at the forum. “I think the town needs to do something to broaden the tax base.”

He expressed his desire to preserve the school’s gym for community usage, and that the rest of the building be “a compatible use that’s acceptable to the town,” adding that “it’s entirely possible that a private enterprise could come in, do something with the school, and still preserve the gym for the community.”

From his opening remarks to his closing statement, Moulton expressed his opposition to the selectmen’s proposal, which he called a “Plan A with no Plan B.”

He said the town has not looked at all the possibilities for the school, noting that proposals should have been requested “to look at different avenues and different ways we might have used that building.”

The sewer system would be built on faith, Moulton added, questioning whether “the projections that we made – whether it be tax revenue or houses built in quarter-acre lots – will actually happen, and I’m not sure it will.”

Thompson noted that the town’s Comprehensive Plan was updated in 2004 after a two-year effort. While there has been progress in some areas, there are others with none, like open space preservation and setting of zoning for the Village Center to keep development from expanding into farm and forest areas.

Moulton said one key aspect of the Comprehensive Plan is maintaining North Yarmouth’s rural character. “I believe you can have your Village Center, but I don’t think you want to get overly ambitious,” in that area, he said, adding that “I personally do not believe this town is ready for quarter-acre lots now, or even 10 years from now.”

Thompson said North Yarmouth’s rural nature has remained largely the same during his 17 years in town. “How you’re going to maintain that, and still make this town reasonably affordable for people to live in, is a problem that we’re starting to face,” he said.

“We’re going to get development; we’re either going to control it or we’re not,” he added, noting that he is not into quarter-acre lots along Route 115, but that small clusters of small lots could work, “as long as we determine what it’s going to look like.”

One key issue the town faces is its tax base being comprised almost entirely on personal property, Thompson said. While the town enjoys good schools through SAD 51, “school taxes … always seem to go up. Even if student (numbers) are going down, there’s always a reason to add more money and more administrators,” he said “… Maybe it’s time we looked at saying ‘no.'”

Polls will be open at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 247 Walnut Hill Road, from 7 a.m-8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 21.

Also on the ballot is a Budget Committee seat expiring in June 2018. Since no one submitted nomination papers for that seat, the town will approach the person who receives the most write-in votes about serving.

While two seats on the budget board were available this June, only one was filled in that election. The Board of Selectmen placed the vacancy on the special September ballot.

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

Jim Moulton, left, and Keith Thompson are running for the North Yarmouth Board of Selectmen in a special election to be held Sept. 21.

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.