North Yarmouth board blocks competing school redevelopment question

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Selectmen Tuesday unanimously rejected authorization of an alternative ballot referendum about redevelopment of the North Yarmouth Memorial School property.

It was the second time in a year that a referendum question about proposed redevelopment has been challenged by a citizen petition; selectmen acquiesced last year, but not this time.

This time, the town attorney gave the Board of Selectmen “a framework, with case law and state law on how these issues are managed,” board Chairman Alex Carr said after Tuesday’s meeting. “There’s not a lot of case law, but there are laws about repetitive votes.”

The proposed Question No. 2 called for retaining the entire NYMS property, including the gym; using insurance funds to build a new Wescustogo Hall; and selling the Town Hall property for residential and/or for a commercial use to increase North Yarmouth’s tax base and provide funds for a new Town Hall on the property.

Question No. 1, which the board voted 3-1 March 29 to place on the ballot, reflects a proposal submitted by A.H. Grover Co. of North Yarmouth. The plan includes demolishing portions of the school building, but preserving the gym and stage area as part of an approximately 4,200-square-foot space.

Grover has proposed building a new, Wescustogo Hall of approximately 4,000 square feet on an existing foundation and concrete slab attached to the existing building.

A 30-lot senior housing community would be built in several phases, with a buffer established between those buildings and the community center. Two commercial lots would also be developed.

Selectman Steve Palmer, who cast the dissenting vote in March and resigned from the board the following day, proposed an amendment to the motion that called for “language that guides the town into a position that might be able to bring some of the ideas together.”

Other proposals had been presented at two February public hearings and in writing by those who want the town to take a different route.

A nonbinding straw poll of those in attendance at the first meeting showed 24 in favor of Grover, two for a Volunteers of America/Memoryworks proposal, nine uncertain, 33 for none of the above, and three for a combination of the two.

The second meeting saw 19 favoring Grover, four for VOA, nine uncertain, 17 for none of the above, and two for a combination.

The mixed results sparked the petition for an alternative June referendum question. It attracted 290 signatures – surpassing the 218, or 10 percent of the registered voters in the most recent gubernatorial election, required to put the question on the ballot.

“I’m discouraged that 290 people who signed the petition won’t get to vote on the question they wanted to vote on,” Rob Wood, one of those who gathered petition signatures, said after Tuesday’s meeting.

The Board of Selectmen reached four conclusions that helped it decide whether the second question should be added to the June 14 ballot, Carr said:

• The petition language would essentially be a second vote on a matter previously decided in last November’s referendum.

• It would not be “feasible, possible or legal” for the town to comply with the referendum if it did pass.

• Adding the question to the June ballot would interfere with the town’s “ability to rely on municipal decisions in the town … with any finality.”

• And there would be risks, including litigation, if the question were added to the ballot.

“In November (2015), we voted on two questions,” Carr said. “This was definitely a re-vote of both of those, because it was going to vote to redo Question 1, and vote to negate Question 2.”

Dueling questions

The closing by School Administrative District 51 of NYMS and its transfer of the 20-acre facility to the town in 2014 has been a key issue facing North Yarmouth. Reconstruction of Wescustogo Hall – the community-gathering place destroyed by fire in 2013 – has been another major factor as the town considers its future.

The original question placed on last November’s referendum was for redevelopment of NYMS as a municipal and community campus, sale of the existing Town Hall, and creation of a municipal sewer system to help facilitate new development.

Former Selectmen, Mark Verrill, Linc Merrill and Paul Napolitano led residents who organized a petition that opposed the recommendation. The petition led to a referendum, approved by voters last November, which directed the town to stop developing the school as a municipal and community campus and to not build a municipal sewer system.

It also called for Wescustogo Hall to be rebuilt, as stipulated in a 1997 agreement with the town; for Town Hall to be maintained and renovated; and for the town to seek proposals for the school building, and then gather citizen feedback on all proposals and have any plans for the school put to a referendum vote.

As a result of that question’s passage, the town sent requests for proposals for re-purposing the NYMS property to more than 30 developers and firms. Grover and VOA/Memoryworks were the only ones to submit proposals.

“We’ve already undertaken every aspect of Question 2,” Carr said Tuesday, noting that the process is underway, and “it would not be fair play” to compare the petition proposal, which he said had no detail, to Grover’s, which provides illustrations, numbers and a schedule.

The new No. 2

Pam Ames, Dixie Hayes and Rob Wood were among residents who gathered signatures to oppose the Grover plan.

“I think a lot of people felt that each of the proposals had good points, but I think we also felt that the town was looking to accomplish a lot, and neither proposal accomplished as much as we had hoped,” Hayes said April 13.

“People were really feeling that once this property was gone, our options were limited,” she added. “As long as we retain this property, there’s some flexibility and lots of possibilities for what can happen for the town.”

Wood called it “an opportunity that won’t come again,” adding, “We should get it right. It’ll take us a little more time, maybe, but we’re not beginning from zero. We know a lot of the (related) information. Let’s just have that discussion, and see what we can get for a positive consensus.”

Ames noted that “the 20-acre school property is the missing piece of the puzzle,” nestled between the Public Works facility and Cassidy Pit to create “a combined 85-acre land resource,” according to a Question 2 flier.

“It needs to stay all together,” Ames said. “This town can’t afford to buy any other large tracts of property.”

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

Pam Ames, left, Dixie Hayes and Rob Wood are among North Yarmouth residents who collected enough petition signatures to place a question on the June 14 referendum ballot concerning redevelopment of the North Yarmouth Memorial School property. The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday declined to authorize the question.


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.

  • keithrt

    The North Yarmouth Select Board was correct in it’s action at the April 19th town meeting to decline a citizens’ petition to require a revote on Questions One and Two to redevelop the North Yarmouth Memorial School property. The board is legally bound by the referendum approved in last November’s election and I commend the board’s members for making a difficult decision that disappointed the petition’s organizers.
    One component of the town’s future development is a desire for some form of senior housing. But senior housing, while one possible and desirable component of any current or future development, was never mandated to be included in any of the projects previously proposed or currently being considered, though both proposals received in response to the town’s request included such provisions.
    The proposal by AH Grover that has been approved for inclusion on the June 14th ballot includes preservation of the Memorial School’s gymnasium for the community, a replacement for Westcustogo Hall that is already funded, a 55-and-older housing development, and new baseball and recreational fields.
    Many speakers during March hearings were concerned with the price of the proposed housing…approximately $285,000, which some felt was unaffordable for any but the most affluent. In my view this argument fails for several reasons.
    First, in none of the discussions during the past year has anyone defined senior housing. Is it a one-bedroom apartment for $45,000, or $145,000, or $245,000? What defines affordable in North Yarmouth? Does affordable mean a developer, after considering the cost of land, materials, labor, and permitting, can make a profit? If not, who will subsidize this housing, the state? The federal government? Or, more likely, the taxpayers of North Yarmouth? Are the taxpayers willing to assume the burden of subsidized housing, of being in effect landlords? Can we legally restrict this housing to North Yarmouth residents? If someone from Portland moves into subsidized housing in North Yarmouth are they not now citizens of the town?
    Second, we haven’t defined senior. Fifty-five is a standard cutoff age for many senior oriented developments, but most of us would agree a 55-year old is not senior. I don’t consider myself senior at 66. What is the age…70s, 80s? When does senior become elderly? When does health rather than age become the deciding factor?
    There are no answers to any of these questions because they haven’t been asked. These are not arguments against senior housing or even subsidized housing. They are questions for which we need answers in order to make informed judgments about the future direction of development.
    Efforts are underway now to implement an aging-in-place program. Cumberland has made considerable progress in this area and representatives of North Yarmouth, including Selectperson Jeanne Chadbourne, are working to adapt Cumberland’s ideas to meet our local needs.
    The best aging-in-place program would not only allow seniors to remain in North Yarmouth, but in their homes. Our 2016 budget earmarks funds for social services, such as Meals-On-Wheels or senior transportation. We can and should increase our support for these private initiatives as the town’s needs grow.
    We could also implement a low-cost community program where our emergency medical technicians and paramedics make periodic visits to seniors to monitor their health vitals and make sure they’re taking their medications. This also increases EMS personnel’s familiarity with those citizens who may require an emergency medical response in the future.
    Voter’s should be concerned that thirty invitations soliciting proposals for development of the Memorial School property received only two responses. Anecdotal reports indicate that some developers were reluctant to deal with the town in light of past turmoil. I would like to see the Board of Selectmen charge the town’s Economic Development and Sustainability Committee with canvassing the developers to find out why they did not submit proposals. If they declined because they don’t want to work with the town, then that is a serious problem that must be addressed.
    Regardless of the results of the June vote, this will not end consideration of the needs of our elder citizens, nor will it be the last opportunity for future projects to meet those needs. The Grover proposal meets many of the community’s goals. I hope citizens will take time to study the Grover proposal and any forthcoming modifications to ensure their vote on June 14th is an informed one.

    • Hopeful

      Well said Keithrt. You have very valid points and some great ideas. Isn’t it too bad and sort of sad that some circles in North Yarmouth cannot be what’s seems as reasonable as you and willing to work together.

    • Richard

      Keithrt interesting use of the word turmoil, it reminded me of this article: which shows under the current TM we have not made any progress in the past year. It also clearly demonstrates the apathy that is prevalent in No Yarmouth by it’s residents.

    • logical

      Isn’t it ironic that former North Yarmouth Paramedic Bill Young has initiated a community outreach program in OOB, where he currently works, to help schools, churches, etc. with learning the basics of emergency med. in order to provide further support to the citizens. We lost a great resource due to the petty ego issues of the TM.

    • silverlight

      “where our emergency medical technicians and paramedics make periodic visits to seniors”…. wait. what paramedics? did you forget we don’t have any of those? great idea, though.

      • Watchful Eye

        The chief of NYFR did not come up with this idea. It is a nationally recognized program slowly being implemented into EMS. Some parts of the country are already doing this. It is called Community Paramedicine. The program was started by the insurance companies to help cut down on random and non emergent transports to the hospital. The average ambulance call runs around $600.00 and of course all the costs involved with hospitalization. The insurance companies “are tired of paying the bill”. The plan is to train paramedics to oversee care of people in there locals instead of using the emergency transport system. The insurance companies would lump sum the hospitals which would pay the emergency services for calls. The ringer is the emergency transports have to be justified. This is a somewhat simplistic explanation but you get the gist. Chief Plummer , the former F/R Chief , had this in his strategic planning outline but who knows where that wandered off to.

  • Watchful Eye

    I also agree with keithrt and Richard. What is happening in this town is nothing more than dogs marking there territories. Not one of the groups, the EDSC, Merrill’s group and now Moulton’s group have enough leadership and knowledge in them to sit down and deal with such a complex issue. The lack of leadership started a year and a half ago and has been perpetuated with a lack of transparency, half truths, coercion, lack of judgement, ability and spine. Add to that an incompetent town manager with an ax to grind and you have yourself a recipe for disaster. Three of the co conspirators have taken their toys and gone home not willing to stand and fight for their beliefs, calling the situation “frustrating”. This is the group that started all the turmoil to begin with.
    It is my hope that some leadership comes out of the next election. We do not need the same ol’ faces again. If this town really wants to grow and be the town it has the potential to be then it has to elect people that have leadership ability, knowledge of issues and a working backbone.