North Yarmouth residents weigh in on development options
NORTH YARMOUTH — After hearing a variety of suggestions last week about how to redevelop the town center after the fire that destroyed Wescustogo Hall, a committee plans to bring options to the Board of Selectmen.
The North Yarmouth Economic Development and Sustainability Committee presented five development options at an Oct. 17 forum at North Yarmouth Memorial School. Approximately 70 people attended.
Committee member David Perkins said Monday that the panel would meet again Wednesday, Oct. 22, and determine whether a clear direction came out of the forum. If so, the group could offer the Board of Selectmen a recommendation by the end of the year, he said.
Wescustogo Hall was to be a key element in the first phase of the committee's plan for redeveloping the town center, which voters approved in June.
But the Aug. 29 fire that destroyed the 1950s-era former Grange hall on Walnut Hill Road forced the panel to re-evaluate its plan and seek input from residents.
Town Meeting approved spending more than $150,000 on the first phase of the economic development plan, which called for installation of a sidewalk from the fire barn to Wescustogo Hall, along with a path from the hall to an approximately 70-foot bridge that would span Toddy Brook ravine.
A trail would lead from there to Town Hall, tying both sides of the town property together with pedestrian access.
Most options developed by the committee now call for North Yarmouth Memorial School – due to close next June – to be redeveloped for private or public uses, with the gym retained for community use.
One option proposes the general plan be left intact, with Wescustogo Hall being replaced where it stood. The building was insured, and valued last year at a little more than $400,000.
In another option, the Wescustogo property – now a re-seeded vacant lot – and adjacent town green would be redeveloped for commercial use. Wescustogo would be rebuilt near Town Hall, where parking would be expanded, and the Old Town Hall on Route 9 would be moved to the area of the current Town Hall.
In a third option, all town facilities and land in the "triangle" bordered by Route 115 and Route 9 – including Town Hall, the Wescustogo lot and the fire barn – would be sold for commercial development. Consequently, the school would be converted to a full municipal complex, housing all town facilities.
The fourth option calls for the Old Town Hall to be moved to the Wescustogo site, and Phase 1 of the economic development plan to proceed as planned.
That site would be redeveloped for commercial use under the fifth alternative, while the town center plan would proceed, Old Town Hall would be moved to Sharp's Field, near the current Town Hall, and the school gym would be retained for community use to replace Wescustogo Hall.
People at last week's meeting spent about a half hour looking at diagrams of each plan before convening to offer their thoughts.
Tara Sasseville said that with students moving out of the school next year to attend an expanded Greely Middle School in Cumberland, "we're trying to figure out what might be a draw for North Yarmouth, so that roads lead into North Yarmouth, instead of out."
She noted that a performing arts center is something of interest to School Administrative District 51. Other ideas involve a community center, with amenities like a pool or ice rink, "using the gym space so that the (recreation) programs and adult education could all happen on this site."
Gary White of Mill Road, a longtime resident and former Planning Board member, said the rising tax rate has been forcing young people to move out of the community.
"I'm a little concerned about that," he said. "The vibrancy of our community is going to depend over the long run on having some younger people (here)."
White said he would like to see commercial, industrial development encouraged in order to help offset growing school expenses.
Jenny Tuemmler said North Yarmouth is one of the oldest towns in the country, and that the town should build on its history. She pointed out that the town's open space and rural character are important to its residents.
"I'm afraid if we allow too much business to come in, we're going to lose that," she said.
Pam Ames suggested that the Wescustogo Hall side of the town center triangle, along Route 115, is the most commonly traveled road through North Yarmouth.
"I'd really like to see our town office there, and our large meeting space there," she said. "... It feels as if we're trying to force the current town office to be more visible, and cutting down trees ... . Rather than force it, let's look at this blank piece of property we have right there, front and center, for the people who are driving through North Yarmouth to know, this is what our town's about."
Ken Allen said he is all for change, but that some things should be left alone. He said the old Town Hall was placed where it was since that was the center of town, and he opposed the 19th century structure being moved.
The Wescustogo Grange Hall Association purchased the property in the 1940s and erected the building the following decade. The group turned the building over to the town in the mid-1990s.
Linc Merrill, a longtime member and president of the grange, said he did not support rebuilding the structure, noting that the town does not own enough parking for a building of its size.
He also said he was bothered by the idea of the lot becoming commercial, noting that the grange's intent was "to give that property to the town so that the town could use it for the purposes which it had been being used for in the past" – public space, for instance.