Falmouth gives land to OceanView, studies assessing partnership

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council unanimously voted Monday night to convey town-owned land to OceanView retirement community.

The conveyance is for a smaller portion of land than originally discussed, and OceanView has agreed to transfer land to the town in return as part of the agreement.

The council also discussed the town’s partnership with Cumberland County for assessing services.

OceanView’s plan involves turning the vacant Plummer School off Lunt Road into 34 units of senior housing. OceanView asked for a portion of land known as the Village Green in order to expand the building.

During earlier talks, Ocean View had also proposed a smaller, 28-unit plan that did not require town-owned land. The council ultimately backed the larger plan.

The original plan called for nearly a quarter of an acre to be conveyed of approximately 2 1/2 acres of open space in Village Green. However, at Tuesday night’s meeting, Theo Holtwijk, the town’s director of long range planning, said OceanView had re-evaluated the plan and came up with a smaller footprint that would require just over a 10th of an acre. The addition’s footprint is now roughly 4,775 square feet, down from about 8,000 square feet.

Additionally, OceanView is offering nearly three-quarters of an acre of land to the town. The land, located at the corner of Lunt and Middle Roads, includes the Ann Lamb Memorial and Henry Binder Memorial Tree.

Holtwijk said OceanView has proposed to make up to $35,000 worth of landscaping and hard-scaping improvements to Village Green, and grant the town a public easement to walking trails around the stormwater retention pond at the southern end of Village Green.

While it was not part of Monday night’s order, the plan has been to designate several of the building’s units as affordable housing for seniors. In earlier meetings, Holtwijk had said OceanView intends to keep an estimated 16 of the 34 units affordable for 30 years for residents earning no more than 120 percent of the area median income. Holtwijk said the 2015 income levels in Falmouth for two people at 120 percent AMI is just over $74,000.

There have also been past discussions about establishing an affordable housing Tax Increment Financing District. Under a TIF agreement, part of the amount paid in taxes is set aside for a length of time, to be applied toward future projects in predetermined areas of town. Any additional valuation that results from a TIF is not considered by the state when it determines a town’s valuation.

Councilors agreed it would be beneficial to have some kind of public forum to get  input from residents on how the Village Green is used.

Regional assessor

While no action was taken, councilors discussed how outsourcing the town’s assessing services to a regional county service has worked.

In addition to Falmouth, Cumberland County provides assessing services to Cumberland, Yarmouth and Casco. After Gary James, director of regional assessing for Cumberland County, resigned unexpectedly in October, Cumberland is seeking alternatives to the county model.

Falmouth contracted with the county after longtime assessor Anne Gregory  retired in June 2014.

At the meeting, Town Manager Nathan Poore said Falmouth is “in pretty good shape,” because it has been served by Renee LaChapelle, deputy director of regional assessing, who was named interim director after James resigned. Poore said the county has since offered someone else the director’s role.

Council Vice Chairman Russell Anderson said this is a good time for the town to “step back and look at all of our options” in regards to an assessing model. He said since the model apparently hadn’t worked for Cumberland, the model shouldn’t be declared a success.

“I think it would be the easiest thing in the world to sweep this under the rug,”Anderson said.

Anderson said he believes it is easier to manage partnerships with other towns than to delegate the service to another level of government.

Councilor Charles McBrady agreed, asking Poore to bring options to the Council.

“To worry about an employee quitting makes us vulnerable,” McBrady said.

Poore said the costs of sharing an assessor with another town would likely be similar to using the regional model.

Other councilors were more inclined to give the regional model another chance, largely because Falmouth has not had any problems. Chairman David Goldberg said it is important to look at the town’s experience with the county.

“I don’t want to indict the whole thing because of what happened to Cumberland,” Goldberg said.

Poore said the town has until March 31 to renew a partnership with the county. The deadline to give the county notice was originally Jan. 1, but Poore said the county has not yet released a budget, which pushed the date forward. He said the next touch point will be when the council can actually see the county’s budget.

Councilor Caleb Hemphill said he would recommend Poore keep his “eyes wide open” to the potential for other regional partnerships, but that the town “give the county another chance.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.