Falmouth panel backs long way around to connect schools, park

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FALMOUTH — Funding for trail improvements will eventually be needed, but for now there are still details that need to be worked out regarding a plan to connect the school campus to Community Park.

It was 2 1/2 years ago that the Town Council created the Community Park Connector Committee and charged it with creating a trail connection that would “provide a safe, accessible and legal means to walk directly to and from the school campus and Community Park,” Lucky D’Ascanio, director of parks and community programs, said in a memo to councilors.

However, after much discussion and a thorough legal review, it became clear that a direct connection presented several hurdles, including the need to acquire an additional piece of land, D’Ascanio’s memo said. That’s when the committee turned to existing trails and sidewalk systems and how they could be utilized instead.

The committee came up with two options, D’Ascanio told councilors Jan. 23, but members unanimously recommended a proposal to send people through the McCrann/McLaughlin Preserve to Twin Ponds Drive, which has a sidewalk, and then using an existing trail at the end that leads into Community Park.

“In the long run (this approach) adds more value to more users,” D’Ascanio said in her memo.

She told councilors Monday the route is about a mile and half in length and would require several improvements and upgrades to some of the trails, as well as to a Central Maine Power utility corridor that leads from the schools into the McCrann/McLaughlin Preserve.

In her memo, D’Ascanio said to use the route through the preserve, the town would also have to build a bridge. Karen Farber, the council chairwoman, said she would also like to see crosswalks added at several locations to make it safer.

Councilor Caleb Hemphill is the liaison to the Community Park Connector Committee, and said while members of the group were “disappointed that our early plans went unrealized, this is a good recommendation.”

He acknowledged that the plan presented by the committee is not “shovel ready,” and “some work is still needed,” but “it’s the best alternative for now, even though further details need to be worked out.”

In her memo to the council, D’Ascanio said, “The concept of creating an East Branch Recreation Trail between the schools and the Community Park dates back to the late 1990s,”so, she told the council, “This is certainly not a new endeavor. This has been a goal for a long time.”

To avoid duplicating efforts, D’Ascanio told the council she’s also kept the town’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Stakeholders Group informed of the plan to connect the schools to Community Park. In her memo she suggested town staff assigned to each committee “work cooperatively and assess the feasibility of improvements to this area of Falmouth Road, the Pan Am Railroad Crossing and Twin Ponds Drive.”

D’Ascanio’s memo also said the Community Park Connector Committee favors having the town pursue the acquisition of a parcel of about 5 acres to provide a more direct route “through the woods and over the railroad tracks,” she told the council Monday.

Nathan Poore, the town manager, told councilors no vote was needed this week, and “staff would work on the details and come back later with a follow-up report.”

Other business

Also Monday, the council sent a proposed zoning ordinance amendment to a public hearing, set for 7 p.m. Feb. 27. If passed, the amendment would allow expedited reviews for smaller properties looking to redevelop or expand in commercial zones.  

After a lengthy discussion about when and why the town should sell municipal property, councilors also agreed to sell a small section of  town-owned land on Mill Road to an abutter so the owner can build a garage on his property.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

A Falmouth committee has been working for several years on how to best make a connection between the school campus and Community Park, shown here.

A map of the trail connection between Twin Ponds Drive and Community Park in Falmouth.