FREEPORT — With nearly 100 people in attendance, the Town Council Tuesday night agreed to use $2.3 million from an excess fund balance for athletic fields and trails on Hunter Road.
Freeport Fields and Trails, a coalition of residents and business owners, has proposed a multi-use complex that would include four playing fields, three baseball diamonds, trails for Nordic skiing and mountain biking and running, a recreational lodge, a turf field built by Seacoast United Soccer Club and maintenance.
Councilors Joe Migliaccio and Eric Pandora suggested putting $1.2 million of the funding in a June bond referendum, but without support from the majority, their proposal failed.
Migliaccio said a bond would help preserve the fund balance and be the prudent thing to do. Pandora said he was concerned that depleting the fund balance would result in a future tax increase.
But Councilors Charlotte Bishop, Sara Gideon, Rich DeGrandpre and Chairman Jim Cassida were in favor of using the $2.3 million to partially fund the project now. Freeport Fields and Trails will contribute $1 million.
“I feel we should pay for our items now and not years from now,” Bishop said.
About 30 people spoke during the public hearing, and while every resident said the project was necessary, a few voiced concern.
Rod Regier said he was concerned by a lack of traffic data and questioned if the funds could be used for other town needs, including infrastructure and maintenance upgrades. Tom Ross, an abutter to the project, said he had traffic, parking and water concerns.
“No neighbor is against this,” he said. “But our day-to-day life will change dramatically with this project.”
Some residents encouraged a bond vote, while others said it would compete with a school sports complex bond that is already going to referendum in June.
But the majority of speakers touted the benefits of the proposal.
Anne Marie Davee, the school district heath coordinator, said the project would benefit everyone. Debora King, executive director of the Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce, said the fields would attract hundreds of people throughout the year, providing business to local hotels, retail stores and restaurants. And students who need a place to play baseball, lacrosse, soccer and football said they were excited about the project.
The council voted 6-0 to appropriate the funds, with Councilor Jim Hendricks absent.
David Latulippe of Freeport Fields and Trails said the Project Review Board will have to give final approval, but the bids for construction could go out as soon as April 25. With the bids due by May 9, construction could begin as early as June 6 and the fields could be planted by September, he said.