Falmouth council meets privately with possible developer

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council held a closed-door meeting Monday night with the owner of OceanView Retirement Home and its development company in advance of producing a request for proposals for use of the Lunt and Plummer-Motz school buildings and development of the school property.

Voters on June 14 rejected a proposal to move Falmouth Memorial Library to Lunt, create a community center at Motz and renovate Plummer for possible rental by an outside organization.

OceanView, the town’s largest taxpayer, abuts the land and has expressed interest in purchasing part of the school property.

No formal deal has been inked, and representatives of OceanView declined to comment Monday after the meeting.

While some councilors were concerned that meeting privately with developers before an RFP is drafted would give the impression the town had already decided who would get the project and reduce the number of proposals, ultimately, the council voted unanimously to go into executive session.

Before hearing Sea Coast’s presentation about what the company would like to do with the school property, which has not yet been turned over to the town by the School Department, councilors publicly discussed whether what they were doing was legal.

“I don’t see any harm in talking to people, as long as you’re willing to talk to everyone,” said town attorney Bill Plouffe, of the Portland law firm Drummond Woodsum. “A level playing field is embedded in this process.”

Plouffe emphasized that the Town Charter and town ordinances require a competitive bid process for dispensation of any town property. However, he added that the council could decide to waive the competitive process if it believes there are “unusual circumstances.”

Councilor Fred Chase, who asked for the discussion, said he wanted to know what was Sea Coast was thinking before the council approves issues a request for proposals.

“We were elected to represent the taxpayers of this town. We weren’t elected to sit on our hands and determine whether we’re doing something illegal or legal,” Chase said.

The council decided it would meet in executive sessions with any developer interested in the school property at its next meeting. Town Manager Nathan Poore said after the meeting that the information would be advertised on the town’s cable TV channel.

“It’s important not to give one person a leg up,” Plouffe said. “Are you forbidden from talking to one person? I don’t think so, but be careful how you do it.”

The councilors voted unanimously to go into executive session with OceanView, which, according to Chase, lasted until 11 p.m.

“We needed to hear from them,” he said Tuesday.

Chase said he felt the circumstances are unusual because OceanView abuts the school property on three sides, and also because the property is “solid ledge,” meaning any development there will require blasting.

“Any other development is going to have to come up under their window and start blasting,” Chase said. “Most of their residents, they own their own houses. They’re just like any other neighborhood in Falmouth.”

Newly elected Councilor Chris Orestis said Tuesday that he felt comfortable the process would be a “level playing field,” because there are councilors who will make sure that’s the case.

“I recognize deal fatigue when I see it,” said Orestis, adding that he believes it is important to continue the competitive bidding process and get the best deal for Falmouth.

He said often people tell him they wish government functioned more like a business.

“If you want us to run things like a smart business, then that’s what we’re going to do. Sometimes that might mean it takes a little longer,” he said.

The council will review a draft of the request for proposals on Aug. 8 and act on it Aug. 22.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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