Scarborough council wants more time to discuss proposed skating rink
SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council put a temporary freeze Wednesday on plans for an indoor ice hockey rink at Oak Hill.
Councilors also scheduled a workshop on whether to allow cellular phone towers in residential districts, approved a contract to provide dispatch services to Old Orchard Beach, and received the town's property tax rate for the new fiscal year.
Friends of Scarborough Hockey, a pending nonprofit, last week announced plans to privately raise $5.5 million to build the ice arena to support school programs in Scarborough and surrounding communities that are struggling to find ice time.
Because developers want to build the NHL-sized arena next to Scarborough High School on what is presently a staff parking lot, they brought a memorandum of understanding to the Town Council.
The memorandum is not a binding legal document, but is intended to "advance the conversation" about the project with the town and public, Town Manager Tom Hall said.
Although most councilors and residents who spoke Wednesday supported the project, all had concerns, especially about the project's proposed location on school property, in the center of traffic-heavy Oak Hill.
Councilors decided to table the memorandum of understanding until after a workshop on Oct. 1, where they will meet with the hockey group to discuss details of the proposal.
"We’re custodians of the municipal campus, so we have to be careful," Councilor Bill Donovan said. "We’ll approach this thing with a great deal of caution, even though it is exciting."
Councilors Jean Marie Caterina and Jessica Holbrook said they wish the project offered more uses than just ice hockey and skating, since it could be argued there is equal need for a town swimming pool and community center.
"When we talk about the municipal campus, highest and best use always comes to mind," Holbrook said.
Jeff Murray, member of FOSH and president of the Scarborough Girls Ice Hockey Boosters, said the council's decision was "just a part of the process," and the organization will continue fundraising and developing its business model. He said the group also continues to consider private land options.
"We'd like to work with the town, if it makes sense," Murray said.
The council will vote on the memorandum of understanding on Oct. 15.
As suggested during last week's ordinance committee meeting, action was also tabled on zoning amendments for cellular towers until after a joint workshop with the Town Council and Planning Board to be held Sept. 3.
Town Planner Dan Bacon and the ordinance committee have been working for the past year to address poor wireless coverage in town. Bacon has suggested amending the town's zoning to permit new towers in more than just industrial zones.
Many residents oppose the suggested changes because they could allow towers in rural farming and residential zones. They also believe the towers would disrupt scenic views, decrease property values and possibly be a health hazard.
Councilor Kate St. Clair, chairwoman of the ordinance committee, said she hopes the workshop gives councilors and residents the opportunity to answer questions and work through their concerns.
"There's a lot of misconceptions out there," St. Clair said. "It was amazing to me how much data there is and how much conflicting data there can be."
Following the workshop, the Town Council is set to take final action on the cell tower zoning amendments on Sept. 17.
Councilors unanimously approved a contract to add Old Orchard Beach to the town's dispatch service. Councilor Ed Blaise was absent.
The joined services, including public safety answering point services, would begin in February 2015.
Town officials believe the proposal, which has been in the works for the past year, makes sense because the two towns already share other services, including beach raking and Fire Department mutual aid.
Most of the cost of adding Old Orchard Beach to Scarborough's service will be in personnel; the proposal calls for three new dispatchers, in addition to a dispatcher hired in the last fiscal year. Old Orchard Beach has agreed to pay all start-up costs and to reimburse the town for all four dispatchers, at a cost of more than $300,000.
In other business, Town Manager Tom Hall announced the town assessor's finalized property tax rate for the new fiscal year will be $15.10 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The final rate represents a 2.23 percent increase over last year's mil rate of $14.77, and is 10 cents less than the mil rate projected in the fiscal 2015 budget.
The impact on a home valued at $300,000 will be an annual tax increase of about $100.