Public input sought again on proposal for Freeport soccer complex

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FREEPORT — A project kicked around in Freeport for more than a year will be discussed again at a Town Council public hearing on Feb. 28.

The council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to hear public comment on the proposed indoor and outdoor athletic complex that Topsham-based nonprofit Seacoast United Soccer would like to build on town land west of Interstate 295.

Council Chairman James Cassida said residents should not expect a final council vote that night on the project, which would be built on about 15 acres adjacent to the transfer station between Pownal and Hunter roads.

In a Feb. 3 email, however, Cassida said councilors could send the project back to the Planning Board, or kill it by denying a request to change the zoning from a designation of Rural Residential 1 to a new Recreation Zone that would allow indoor and outdoor recreational use.

The proposal to build the complex gained council approval in December 2010, but Planning Board members voted 4-3 last November against endorsing the revised zoning.

If councilors vote to move forward, Cassida said he expects public hearings at the Planning Board and again at the council before the zoning request faces a final vote.

About two hours before Tuesday’s council meeting, Cassida also circulated an email detailing a legal opinion the town obtained regarding the legality of the zoning change and whether it conforms with the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Cassida said he asked Town Manager Dale Olmstead, who was unable to attend Tuesday’s council meeting, to seek the legal opinion in response to criticism from project opponents.

The opponents include members of the Save Our Neighborhoods Coalition, who contend the Comp Plan limits how land west of I-295 can be developed and that the proposed zoning change is a form of illegal “spot zoning.”

Attorneys Philip R. Saucier and Robert J. Crawford of Bernstein Shur in Portland said the spot zoning charge does not necessarily apply to the project because the proposed athletic complex, including a 35-foot tall indoor facility, is not a totally different use of the area that would benefit strictly its owners.

The proposed athletic complex, estimated to cost $4 million, would be bordered by existing athletic fields off Hunter Road, Saucier and Crawford noted in their opinion.

The attorneys also found portions of the Comp Plan that seem to support the complex as conforming to the plan, but said that decision might better be decided by a judge.

Saucier and Crawford added they did not believe the change in zoning would create a “growth area” as defined in the Comp Plan, so councilors are free to deliberate the zoning change without first amending the plan.

Michael Healy, a Seacoast United board member and past president, has said the proposal for the complex would allow the town free unlimited use for one of the outdoor fields for six months each year for the life of the field. Additionally, the town would get 50 free hours of use on an outdoor field an in the indoor facility planned to house three fields.

Healy attended Tuesday’s council meeting but did not speak, and Cassida did not open the floor to public comment before the council vote to hold the Feb. 28 hearing.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow David on Twitter @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.