Fate of indoor soccer arena rests with Freeport Town Council

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FREEPORT — A narrowly divided Planning Board declined to make a recommendation to the Town Council in support of an indoor soccer arena proposed near the town-owned Hunter Road fields.

While board members on Nov. 2 said they support the proposal by Seacoast United Maine to build a nearly 50,000-square-foot indoor sports arena near the recycling center on Hedgehog Mountain Road, they did not believe the project fits in the Rural Residential 1 zone. 

They voted 4-3 against creating an overlay district to allow an indoor recreational facility in the RR-1 zone. They also voted unanimously against allowing recreational outdoor facilities in all of RR-1 – a district that makes up 70 percent of the town. 

The matter will now go to the Town Council with a recommendation that the project is inconsistent with zoning, and councilors will decide what to do next.

Michael Healy, past president of the soccer club, said on Monday that Seacoast United will “just have to wait to see what the council thinks.”

“I wish (the Planning Board) had a positive recommendation, but it was a split vote,” he said. “Of course it is disappointing, but it’s not fatal.”

Council Chairman Jim Cassida on Tuesday said Healy and Seacoast United have made no requests “at this stage” to present their proposal to the council.

The council approved a deal last December with Seacoast, a nonprofit soccer club based in Topsham, even though indoor recreational facilities and nonprofit organizations are not approved uses under the town’s zoning ordinance.

Healy said the land surrounding the proposed indoor arena is already used for recreational purposes and the landfill and recycling area is commercial.

“The only difference between what we are proposing to do and what the town is presently doing is having recreational use inside this building,” he said. “I don’t think this is a big change in this area under the Comprehensive Plan.”

Board members Theresa Oleksiw, Greg Savona, Ann Brandt and Harry Virtue voted against the overlay district.

Oleksiw said she supports the project, but said the proposal is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

“Whenever you put an overlay in place it should be complementary to nearby uses,” she said. “From what I see there are no 60,000-square-foot arenas nearby. There are playing fields nearby.”

Chairwoman Wendy Caisse and members Aaron Cannan and Malcolm Collins supported the overlay district.

Cannan said that although the process “feels backwards and a little bit wrong,” he said the location is complementary to the surrounding uses and the project would provide a benefit for the community.

Collins said while he is open to an overlay district, he would like to re-evaluate some of the RR-1 language and permitted uses.

Most of the nearly dozen residents who offered comments were opposed to the overlay district.

Tom Ross of Murch Road said he could support the project if it were built in a “commercially zoned, appropriate district.”

“If the Planning Board and the Town Council choose to disregard the Comprehensive Plan, the Town Charter, and the wishes of its residents in any  zoning district,” he said, “I believe the value of having any zoning ordinance is pointless.”

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.