Harpswell steps back from funding Mitchell Field ‘money pit’

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HARPSWELL — The Board of Selectmen halted discussion of a $10,000 allocation for the Mitchell Field master plan at its Nov. 8 meeting, although the funds were appropriated in the 2017 budget.

Selectmen also unanimously allocated $6,000 to updating the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Town Planner Mark Eyerman went before the board to discuss the separate proposals, both of which involve assistance from Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers, the engineering firm hired by the town.

The board cited a need for more consideration and potential public input in its vote on Mitchell Field. Selectman David Chipman said while he thinks something needs to be done to update the plan,  the $10,000 price tag is too steep.

In the Gorrill Palmer work order, the expenses are broken down and projected to be put towards facilitating a public workshop about the future of the property, identifying the opportunities and constraints for further development, and holding a charrette-type public meeting.

Selectman Kevin Johnson said even if the town were to hold public meetings to discuss what should happen at Mitchell Field, he does not think there is a lot of interest in the site from the community. He added that the town has already spent a significant amount of money coming up with a master plan several years ago, and going through the same process again would be a waste of money.

“I really don’t see the end game here,” Johnson said. “I like Mitchell Field, it’s a beautiful place, but it’s a money pit.”

Eyerman brought up issues that could get worse without attention, including the growth of invasive plants like bittersweet. He said he and the Mitchell Field Committee want to find a way to address such problems as part of a “thought-out program.”

If the funds are allotted, he said, the town and the Mitchell Field Committee would do most of the work, asking only for assistance from the engineering firm.

He added he and the committee want to ensure the public feels involved, and Gorrill Palmer could act as an objective facilitator.

“The intention is this be an open process,” Eyerman said.

Chairman Richard Daniel said the board would revisit the issue at a later date.

Comp Plan

Certification of the town’s current Comprehensive Plan, last updated in 2005, runs out in 2018.

Eyerman said an update is necessary because the plan is not in compliance with state regulations, and comprehensive plans – which include data on changes in population, housing and new development, including additions to residential and non-residential buildings and new or expanded wharves – are used to determine if towns are eligible for state grants.

“State law says your land-use regulations have to be consistent with what your adopted Comprehensive Plan is,” Eyerman said. “At this point, they are not.”

The work order Eyerman submitted on behalf of the town and Gorrill Palmer asked for a total of $7,000 to complete the effort, but Town Administrator Kristi Eiane noted that the highest costs outlined on the form only come to $6,000.

Eiane also said if funds from the 2017 operational budget are used, she would like to see Gorrill Palmer get started on the projects before the proposed start date of Jan. 1, 2018. The proposed end date of the work is Feb. 14, 2018.

Eiane added she thought the engineering firm should have the first two items on the list – demographic and housing research – completed before the end of this year. Eyerman said both goals are realistic.

“If the Board of Selectmen says $6,000 and we need to have substantial progress on (steps) one and two by the end of the year, I think we could go back to Gorrill Palmer and say ‘Can you make it happen?'” Eyerman said. “My guess is, they’ll say yes, they can.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Mitchell Field in Harpswell.