Neighbors question Cumberland proposal to move DPW to fairgrounds

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CUMBERLAND — Neighbors of the Cumberland Fairgrounds are concerned about a proposal to move the Public Works Department to part of the Fairgrounds property at 197 Blanchard Road.

Town Manager Bill Shane said last month that he had met with the Fairgrounds board, which was receptive to continuing discussions on the matter. He expects to meet with the board again next month.

The Cumberland Farmers Club is expected to vote on the proposal at its annual meeting in December. Costs of the project, as well as the specific location of the garage, remain undetermined.

The town’s desired site is in the western corner of the Fairgrounds property, about 1,700 feet northwest of Bruce Hill Road and adjacent to a Central Maine Power Co. power line corridor. The land is now used for overflow camping and housing for carnival workers during the fair, according to Shane.

Cumberland previously eyed a vacant town-owned parcel next to the Town Forest, and about 1,000 feet back from Tuttle Road, for the Public Works facility now on Drowne Road, where space has become tight.

At Monday’s Town Council meeting, Clay Holtzman of Bruce Hill Road said he and his family chose to move to Cumberland last year because of the fairgrounds, where the 146th annual Cumberland Fair is taking place this week.

“We live across from the fairgrounds, and for us it’s what makes our new home special,” he said, noting that his family, neighbors, and an increasing number of other residents have concerns about potentially negative implications of the town garage relocating to that area – among them increased traffic, noise, safety, costs and environmental issues.

One of those fears, Holtzman said, is “the potential to forever change an institution that has stood for nearly 150 years. An industrial-use facility, no matter whether it is for private or public use, is fundamentally out of step with the history, purpose, use and intent of the Cumberland fairground.”

He asked councilors to reverse course and examine other locations.

Rachael Becker McEntee, who has lived at the corner of Blanchard and Bruce Hill roads since last year, focused in part on the impact of the move on taxpayers. She said she heard an estimated project cost of $4 million to $6 million.

“The town, from what I’m aware of, can’t afford that right now, and any proposal would have to be pushed out, because it’s so expensive,” she said, noting that the current facility may be outdated, but is sufficiently sized and is in a central location.

McEntee, a member since January of the Cumberland Conservation Commission and an attorney with a law practice focusing on environmental and land use issues, said she is also concerned about “critical terrestrial and wetland habitats that border the proposed area. From an environmental standpoint, it’s a poor choice because of those habitats.”

She added that the permitting and engineering necessary to place an industrial facility there “will be very expensive and very time-consuming,” referring to stormwater and wastewater controls.

On Tuesday, Shane said the town doesn’t “want to get too far ahead of the process,” noting that if the Farmers Club approves the project, “that’s really kind of the starting line. … They can kill it in October, or they can say, let’s get appraisals.”

The town has delineated the wetlands on the parcel to determine its ability to be developed, and has inventoried existing infrastructure there, including water.

With the club’s approval, an arrangement could be made for the town to either purchase the property or lease it on a long-term basis.

Regarding the property’s value, Shane said, “we’ve been putting numbers out there primarily just to give people the order of magnitude. We’ve been saying it’s $4 million to $6 million; that’s a big gap, obviously. We haven’t done an in-depth analysis of space requirements and putting square footage numbers together.”

The process could run between three and seven years, he said.

Neither the existing PWD land nor the land being eyed by the town are generating tax revenue, Shane said. Housing is planned for the current site after it is vacated, which would put that land on the tax rolls, generating $12 million to $15 million of new value, Shane said.

“I get why people are upset” about the proposed move, he added. “… But we’re really not that bad a neighbor; it’s truly a Monday-Friday operation, for the most part,” aside from winter plowing and a compost facility open a few hours on Saturdays.

“We don’t have a lot of cars in there, and a lot of people coming out,” Shane said. “It’s pretty much our crew, and the (school) bus drivers.”

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

This image shows where a new Cumberland Public Works facility could be built at the Cumberland Fairgrounds. The garage would be at top left, Bruce Hill Road is at bottom, and Blanchard Road is at right.

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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.