Grant advances Topsham waterfront park project

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TOPSHAM — With a $40,000 grant in hand, the town is another step closer to turning the vision of a waterfront park into a reality.

The Board of Selectmen accepted the coastal planning funds from the Maine State Planning Office on Jan. 19. The panel also formed an ad hoc citizens committee to develop design alternatives for a waterfront park in the area of what is known as the Green Street triangle.

The grant money – along with $26,000 from a reserve account, approved by special Town Meeting voters last November – will fund several aspects of the project. It will go toward a consultant who will help facilitate a community-led design process, and result in multiple conceptual designs for the park, according to Planning Director Rich Roedner.

The money could also pay for negotiations with adjacent landowners whose property could become part of the park, as well as engineering and final design work, and obtaining necessary permits, Roedner said.

The town previously used a $20,000 Maine State Planning Office grant to hire consultants to gather public reaction to the possibility of a waterfront park. The study also looked into what would make sense for the property eyed for waterfront access: the Green Street area, near the old fire station and the Androscoggin River.

Roedner said the latest phase of the project will delve into more specific ideas from the public about what it would like to see in that area.

“The idea would be to have some sort of a feedback loop,” he said. “We hear from the public, we provide something back and say, ‘here’s what we heard from you, and here are the ideas that we think meet what you guys have said.'”

The old fire station stands partly on half an acre of town property and on waterfront land owned by the Fore River Co., which also owns the Bowdoin Mill.

A range of ideas for the area will be considered, including what a project on just the town-owned land would include, and whether that is worth pursuing, and how the project could take shape if adjacent privately owned property is involved.

“We’re asking about uses,” Roedner said. “What is it the public wants? Now let’s look at what the public wants versus what we know about the property.”

The constraints and opportunities of the approximately two-acre space have been investigated. One key constraint is a 24-foot drop to the water.

There will be multiple schematics for the waterfront park.

“Once we have those schematics,” Roedner said, “we would sit down with the property owners, and say … ‘these are the type of things that we’re hearing from the public. We would like to sit down with you … and see how this dovetails with your desires. Is there a way we can work together?'”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.