North Yarmouth voters OK $2.4M budget, town center plan

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Residents approved next year’s $2.4 million municipal budget at Town Meeting June 15.

One of the budget elements – $155,000 for the first phase of a proposed economic development plan – generated significant discussion. The goal of the project, spearheaded by the town’s Economic Development and Sustainability Committee, is to turn a triangular area in the center of town into a more visible, active and inviting town center. The expenditure will be funded through a multi-year bond.

The area, which includes Town Hall, runs from the intersection of Routes 9 and 115, up Route 115 and down Parsonage Lane, and then back along Route 9 to the intersection with Route 115.

A path from Wescustogo Hall – a community gathering place where Town Meeting and elections are held – would be installed. It would continue to an approximately 70-foot bridge spanning a Toddy Brook ravine, from which a trail would lead to Town Hall, tying both sides of the town property together for pedestrian access.

Mark Smith, who opposed the expenditure and suggested changes be made to the Comprehensive Plan, moved for the allocation to be removed from the town’s Land Use Regulations and Planning line item.

After much debate, a verbal vote to amend was too close to call, as was a subsequent hand vote. After a standing vote, the motion failed, 39-33, and the original motion then passed as proposed.

Al Ahlers, chairman of the Economic Development and Sustainability Committee, noted that the proposed work is designed in part to “make the area more inviting to those who might establish a business in North Yarmouth,” adding that the group had heard people comment that “it’s almost like we’re invisible,” and that it is difficult to see Town Hall from Routes 9 and 115.

“This plan is an effort to open up this area, so people can see this wonderful spot we have,” Ahlers said.

Committee member David Perkins added that the desire was also to attract younger people to the community.

Dave Holman called the plan “a step in the right direction,” but noted that “when I go out and walk on a trail in the woods, and if I can see all the building and cars … around me, you don’t feel quite like you’re in the woods.”

“If you don’t vote in favor of this, then you vote to do nothing,” Mark Verrill said. “This town has very few opportunities to increase its tax base and growth.”

He added that “if we don’t start somewhere, we end up doing nothing. And this town has done nothing forever.”

Ginny Van Dyke noted the significance of the piece of property in question, saying, “I don’t want to be a Cumberland. I don’t want to be a Yarmouth. I don’t want to be a Falmouth. Part of what is so attractive (in North Yarmouth) is the fact that there is this beautiful rural center to it, along with (Wescustogo) Hall.”

Of thinning the trees so that Town Hall can be seen, she said, “if I want to see a building, I’ll go to Portland,” adding that she supports economic development but thinks the parcel discussed should be left alone.

Future phases, to be voted upon in later years, could include an entry to Town Hall from Route 115, and walking trails and a playground within that center, as well as relocation to that area of the Old Town House, from where it sits further north on Route 9.

Development of a business park at the spent, town-owned Cassidy Pit could also come later, as well as reuse of North Yarmouth Memorial School, due to close next year.

Also approved after some discussion was $45,000 to have an architect determine the cost of upgrading Wescustogo Hall. That work would be funded by a bond if approved by a special Town Meeting vote.

While next year’s municipal budget is shrinking 9.5 percent, reduced revenues are causing town taxes to increase 4 percent. The $2.4 million fiscal 2014 spending plan is about $253,000 less than the current budget.

Due to a revaluation going on this year, the tax rate impact of the budget may not be known until later this summer.

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

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.