FREEPORT — Plans for a complex of indoor and outdoor soccer fields got a red card Tuesday when town councilors rejected a zoning change needed to advance the project.
By a 5-2 vote, with Councilors Charlotte Bishop and Rich DeGrandpre opposed, the request by the Seacoast United Maine club to rezone 15 acres of town-owned land was denied.
Councilors did express an interest, however, in helping the club find another property in town.
The request was presented by resident Michael Healy, a former coach, president and board member of the Topsham-based club. He said the site off Pownal Road is the best suited for the project, which would have included a 35-foot tall, 60,000-square-foot building.
After the council vote, Healy declined to comment on whether the nonprofit youth sports organization will try to build elsewhere in town.
In exchange for taking title to 12.4 acres of land, Seacoast United would have granted the town and Regional School Unit 5 100 free hours each year for use of the outdoor fields and 50 free hours each year of indoor use.
An agreement approved by councilors last April also allowed Seacoast United to lease three acres of land for $100 annually and build an outdoor field. Lease terms allowed residents and RSU 5 school children exclusive rights to use the field from July 15 through Jan. 15.
Bishop and DeGrandpre favored sending the zoning request to the Planning Board for more consideration, saying the proposed facility on 15 acres of town-owned land is a good opportunity to serve recreational needs.
DeGrandpre said he had been involved in Seacoast United’s plans from the start in 2009, when he saw Healy looking for land parcels in Town Hall files. Because the town could not afford to develop the acreage off Pownal Road and adjacent to the town transfer site for recreational use, DeGrandpre said he thought working with Seacoast United was a good partnership.
While he voted against the zoning change, Council Chairman Jim Cassida said even if Seacoast finds another parcel of commercial land in town to build its facility, the benefits of swapping town land for free use of the field are gone.
“I just want everyone to understand what we are giving up,” Cassida said.
Before voting, councilors heard about 2 1/2 hours of comments from residents in a sometimes contentious public hearing. About 150 people attended the hearing, and more than 50 of them gave their opinions on the proposed complex. Of those speakers, about half a dozen favored the project.
Bristol Road resident Deborah Deatrick said having Seacoast United be part of the town would present good opportunities for children, and economic benefits because of the tournaments the organization hosts.
Deatrick said an indoor soccer facility operated by Seacoast United in southern New Hampshire is “clean and well-maintained” and enjoyed by her 14-year-old son, who particpates in Seacoast programs.
Florence Lusk, who lives on Thompson’s Way, said the presence of a 60,000-square-foot dome rising 35 feet would block mountain views west of the top of nearby Hedgehog Mountain and generally wouldn’t fit into the rural nature of the area.
After about 90 minutes of public comments, Seacoast United Executive Director and founder Paul Willis asked to speak again to clarify the concept for the athletic complex. Willis and Healy opened the hearing with presentations on the plans, but Willis was shouted down as he tried to speak again.
After Willis was denied the chance to speak, Cassida said he was “disappointed in this community.”
Even as speakers objected to the proposed site, they shared the council sentiment that Seacoast United is still welcome to find an appropriate site in town.
Betty’s Way resident Lisa Evans said the zoning change is a giveaway to a commercial interest that would ruin the trails she enjoys in the wooded area.
“I do not want to recreate by walking around a 60,000-square-foot building,” she said.
Mike Healy presents information about a planned athletic complex proposed by Topsham-based Seacoast Maine United at Tuesday’s Freeport Town Council meeting. The request for a zoning change that would allow construction of the facility on town-owned land was defeated.
More than 150 people attended the public hearing about a zoning change to allow Seacoast United Maine to build an indoor-outdoor athletic complex in west Freeport on town-owned land. Councilors heard 2 1/2 hours of public comment.