Harpswell residents to vote on buying waterfront property
HARPSWELL — On Nov. 5, voters will be asked to approve $85,000 to purchase property that officials say will help protect waterfront access.
Some fishermen said that access has been jeopardized over the years.
The Board of Selectmen will hold a public hearing on the ballot item on Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m. to explain its purpose and answer any questions. The hearing will be held during the board's regularly scheduled meeting at Town Hall, 263 Mountain Road.
Selectmen are proposing to purchase less than a fifth of an acre of waterfront property from resident Dain Allen. The property is adjacent to Lookout Point, a town landing on Middle Bay that includes a boat ramp and access to clam flats.
Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said purchasing the land would prevent any other kind of use from occurring on Allen's property, which under his ownership has typically been used as an extension for Lookout Point activities.
"I just owned it and paid the taxes on it and said, 'what the heck, I don't mind if people park on it,'" said Allen, a fisherman and owner of Allen's Seafood on Lookout Point. "If they don't buy it, then an individual is going to buy it and then you don't know what's going to happen to it down the road."
Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Elinor Multer said the purchase would also be in line with the board's goal of purchasing land for the sake of protecting the town's waterfront access.
She said the town is always open to hearing proposals to sell land to the town.
"We aren't going on any rampage to get acres and acres of land," Multer said, "but if there are any opportunities we want to look at them."
Allen's asking price is less than the parcel's assessed value of $92,000, which represents about 98 percent of the land's market value, according to the town's assessing office.
Allen said there was a previous buyer who was offering to purchase the land for more, but he held off because of the town's interest.
"I'm 77 years old and it doesn't make much sense for me to hang on to it, and it seemed like the right thing to do," he said.
The $85,000 would come from the town's unassigned fund balance and would not require a tax increase, Eiane said.
However, the expenditure would mean the money would not be available to help reduce the tax commitment in next year's town budget.
Multer said the reduction would be negligible.
"Sure, we could spend that amount of money on something else, including lowering taxes," she said. "It wouldn't do very much ... so we think it's a very worthwhile investment."
Allen said in his experience as a fishermen he has seen rights of way to waterfront areas disappear as a result of private land ownership.
"Little by little, they're getting scarcer," he said.
Justin Farmer, a clammer and member of the town's Marine Resources Committee, said he has seen a reduction in the number of available waterfront access points since he began digging in 1990.
"Most of them we can use, but there are a few we are having a problem with, like Hildtreth Landing," he said.
Some of the problems arise when out-of-towners purchase land in Harpswell without realizing that clammers and others had been using the areas for waterfront access, Farmer said.