FREEPORT — After 18 months of negotiations, council meetings and public hearings, the Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to negotiate a final agreement to sell 17 acres of land on Pownal Road to Seacoast United Maine soccer club.
Up to the final minutes of discussion councilors had numerous changes to make to the draft contract, but in the end they agreed to allow Town Manager Dale Olmstead to negotiate the changes and return the contract to the council for final approval.
The sale to the Topsham-based nonprofit requires the club to develop and maintain the property as an athletic and recreational facility. The organization agreed to clear and grade adjoining land for a Little League baseball field and will allow the town to use 424 outdoor hours each year, free of charge for seven years. The use is valued at $237,000.
In addition to the Little League field, the soccer club will install two artificial turf fields, an indoor soccer arena, parking areas and roads. That work is valued at about $3.5 million.
No money will be exchanged by the town and the club.
Councilor Jim Cassida said he would support moving forward with the arrangement “with some tinkering.”
Based on the fact that the parcel is difficult to develop, Cassida said the agreement is a good deal for the town.
“We won’t solve our long-term problems, but this is a good short-term arrangement to address our field needs,” he said. “I doubt the town will ever take the risk Seacoast is taking on this property.”
Councilor Joe Migliaccio said while he supports the idea, he wants to hear more from the Regional School Unit 5 board about its needs.
“I feel like there are a bunch of loose ends that need to be buttoned up,” he said. “We do not have RSU sentiment on this, (and) there is a busing issue. I feel we need to circle around this again.”
Resident Alan Gould encouraged the council to reject the agreement, and resident John Jaques asked the council for more details before final approval.
“I am concerned there is a narrow focus,” he said. “This is a big improvement, but it still needs work.” He said the public needs more details on what will be built and when.
According to a financial breakdown provided to the council Tuesday night, excluding the cost of building the indoor soccer arena, the project will cost about $2.5 million. The property could generate up to $30,000 a year in tax revenue, which would be used for future recreational needs.
After the seven-year agreement expires, the town and RSU 5 will be able to buy field use at 80 percent of the published rate from Seacoast United for an additional five years. After 12 years, the two entities can renegotiate.
Kirk Cameron, president of Freeport United Soccer Club, said there would be no value in the new fields if residents are not able to use them.
“I fully support anything to give us access to any fields in town,” he said. “But, how broad is the benefit to residents? I’d like to see a more broad benefit for more people.”
RSU 5 Athletic Director Craig Sickels said even if the 424 hours were allotted to the RSU 5 teams per year, it would not be enough for practices and games, or for the other teams in town that need field space.
“I’ve been here 17 years, and we have been close to a decision three times,” he said. “We have got to come together and make it happen.”
Mike Healey, former president of the Seacoast club, who has been working with Freeport officials for over a year, said the organization will buy the land and adjust the contract, but did not want to wait an additional two weeks to a month for a decision.
“To say Freeport residents won’t be able to use the facility is utterly ridiculous,” he said. “Can (the council) vote on principal, say you are in favor of moving forward on this?”
Town Manager Dale Olmstead took the suggested changes from councilors, will negotiate a deal with Seacoast United, and bring the contract back to the council for final approval.
Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org