North Yarmouth group petitions for alternate village development question

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NORTH YARMOUTH — With a major decision on development of the Village Center coming at the polls in November, town voters may also have an alternate ballot choice.

Former Selectmen Paul Napolitano, Mark Verrill and Linc Merrill are among residents who have organized a petition that opposes the Board of Selectmen’s recommendation to redevelop North Yarmouth Memorial School as a municipal and community campus.

As of last week, the group had gathered 268 signatures, more than the 218, or 10 percent of the registered voters in the most recent gubernatorial election, required to put the question on the ballot.

The group has until Sept. 8 to submit signatures.

The board’s recommendation, which goes to voters in November, is also to sell the existing Town Hall for housing or commercial development, and to create a municipal sewer system to help facilitate new development. It was approved by a 4-1 vote Feb. 3, with Napolitano opposed.

The competing petition calls for the town to:

  • “Immediately terminate making any expenditures and performing any work to study or to develop a Municipal sewer system.”
  • Rebuild Wescustogo Hall, the community gathering place destroyed by fire in August 2013, as called for in a 1997 agreement with the town.
  • Keep the existing Town Hall and its property, and make any necessary renovations or additions over time.
  • Request proposals for the school building, including public or private uses, and senior housing.
  • Gather citizen feedback on all of the proposals received, and send a recommended plan for the school to a town vote.

As long as the petitioners get the required number of certified signatures, both questions will go on the November ballot, Town Clerk Debbie Grover said Aug. 4.

She expressed concern that the two competing questions could be confusing to voters, and noted the importance of both sides educating voters about the choices.

Alex Carr, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said last month that there will be one or two public discussions before November; a formal public hearing on the proposal must also be held no later than Oct. 24.

“When, and if, the petition is submitted and deemed valid according to statute, then the board will discuss the ramifications for the November referendum,” Carr said in an email Aug. 7.

Selectman Mark Girard, who in February moved to adopt the board’s Village Center development proposal, noted Aug. 4 that all of the points in the new petition had been “discussed, debated and turned down … through the process so far.”

He added that if the public feels the Board of Selectmen made the wrong decision, “we’ll find out when they vote on it.”

The petition basically starts the process all over again, Girard said, “and I think that’s an unfortunate way to approach things.”

People for and against the board’s recommendation have voiced their opinions at numerous meetings in recent months, “and it’s time for the people to weigh in and decide what they want to do,” Girard explained.

Verrill on Aug. 4 said the petition drive has gone well. “Not one person declined signing,” he said. “We took (the Board of Selectmen’s) question and turned it around.”

He said his group does not necessarily need Wescustogo Hall to be built on the same site, where parking limitations were an issue. But the members are calling for it to be rebuilt as a community building, separate from any municipal purposes except for voting.

Concern over a municipal sewer system causing lot-size requirements to be reduced from one acre to as small as a quarter acre, and thereby increasing housing density, is also a major concern, Verrill said.

The current Town Hall meets North Yarmouth’s needs, and reflects its rural character, he said, adding that the school building and property has more space than the town needs.

“We don’t need to tie up that kind of acreage for a municipal building, not when there could be something there like affordable senior housing, or maybe even a sports complex,” he explained.

Verrill noted his sentimentality for the building, where he attended fifth and sixth grades. But he added that it has “run its course,” and “really needs to be turned over to somebody with deep pockets and who’s creative that can put a real centerpiece for the town there.”

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

Sidebar Elements

Former North Yarmouth Selectmen Paul Napolitano, left, Linc Merrill and Mark Verrill are among leaders of a petition drive for an alternative Village Center development question on the Nov. 3 town ballot.

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.