Falmouth to acquire remaining lots at Tidewater Farm

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FALMOUTH — Assuming an appraisal is favorable, the town is set to agree to purchase undeveloped lots at Tidewater Farm and then resell some of the property to the Falmouth Land Trust.

The deal is scheduled to be completed at a special at 7:30 a.m. meeting of the Town Council on Dec. 20.

Under the agreement, the town will buy the land for no more than $500,000 and then resell 4 acres to the trust, including 2 acres that include a historic farmhouse and barn that would be torn down.

The town would keep an 8-acre lot abutting the current wastewater treatment plant in anticipation of future expansion, as well as a 48-acre conservation easement now owned by the Tidewater Conservation Foundation.

Details of the transaction were discussed at Monday’s Town Council meeting and a final vote to approve all of the necessary documents is expected Dec. 10.

Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill called the proposal “an excellent solution for this property,” which has been subject to the strictures of a master plan since 2005. No one from the public commented on the project during the meeting.

For more than a decade, developer Nathan Bateman has sought and received a variety of amendments to the master plan, but there was never any satisfactory resolution for what would happen to the farmhouse lot, which has direct access to the Presumpscot River estuary.

Under the original master plan, Bateman always intended to tear down at least the farmhouse, which has deteriorated over the years and become a target for vandals.

Initially, the proposal was to construct a commercial building that would include office space. Then Bateman proposed a 75-room inn, and later 40 units of multifamily housing. Meanwhile, town leaders and residents were getting tired of seeing nothing being done.

Bateman first pitched the idea of handing the farmhouse lot over to a local conservation group like the land trust in the summer of 2017.

That led to further talks, which eventually resulted in Bateman offering to sell off all the undeveloped lots to the town with the understanding that the farmhouse lot, as well as another 2-acre parcel being used by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension as a demonstration garden, would go to the Falmouth Land Trust.

Last July, the trust told the Town Council it anticipates using the property to build a new headquarters that would be used for educational purposes and other programming.

In a memo, the trust said, “Tidewater Farm has attributes that make this a particularly attractive place for a center for community engagement around topics including, but not limited to, ecology, horticulture, natural resources and conservation.”

At the time, the Town Council agreed in principle to the proposal and agreed it would like to see the farmhouse lot, in particular, be preserved.

Informal uses of the property now include walking trails, birding, elver harvesting, kayaking, beekeeping and fishing, which “demonstrates how rich and productive the property could be for a diversity of public benefits,” the land trust said in its memo last summer.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said Monday that the land trust is asking for time to conduct a capital fundraising campaign.

It is proposing to pay the town half the cost of the 4-acre site by 2022 and the remaining half by 2028. In the meantime, the town would hold an interest-free mortgage on the property, although the land trust would take immediate possession.

As part of its overall fundraising effort, the land trust would also seek about $1.5 million to build a 5,000-to-10,000-square-foot headquarters, the group’s president, Michael Vance, told the council last summer.

Poore said under the agreement, the town would also set aside $50,000 to help pay for removing the farmhouse and barn, as well as invasive plant species that have started to encroach on the property.

This story has been updated to correctly attribute a quote.

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

This map indicates the undeveloped lots at Tidewater Farm that would be sold to the town of Falmouth in late December, a portion of which would then be turned over to the Falmouth Land Trust to build a new headquarters.

What makes 4 acres of undeveloped land at Tidewater Farm so attractive to the Falmouth Land Trust is its potential for ecology, horticulture, natural resources and conservation purposes.

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