Sale of Scarborough property still on hold as town weighs procedure

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SCARBOROUGH — Town officials are still waiting for results of a conservation analysis on a 69-acre parcel known as the Tibbetts Road property, a piece of town land that abutters have expressed interest in purchasing.

But the delay of written findings from the Parks and Land Conservation Committee may give the Town Council Ordinance Committee time to craft a procedure for the sale of town property.

“It’s not to make it harder, but to give it a process,” Councilor and Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Karen D’Andrea said. “There’s currently no process for that.”

The Tibbetts Road parcel borders Saco and is a former private sludge dump that was closed and capped several years ago. The land is popular for bird-watching, but has been damaged by ATVs and dirt bikes that have chewed up much of the fields.

D’Andrea described the parcel as “gorgeous” with “everything you could want” – open fields, forested areas, Nonesuch River shoreline and a variety of flora and fauna.

In a letter to the town last May, attorney Peter Hatem indicated his clients, Dennis and Susan Hall, of 33 Tibbetts Road, would like to purchase a portion of the property, but had no plans to develop it other than to carve out one single-family house lot for their son. Under the proposal, the town would retain title to a strip of land that borders the river.

In July, the majority of town councilors appeared to support the sale, but D’Andrea expressed concern about potential liability to the town from possible pollutants on the property. She also objected to the town selling open space.

After researching the property’s history and the tests that have been completed on the property, Town Manager Tom Hall recently said he is confident that “there was nothing egregious that had been done there.”

He stressed only a portion of the property would be sold and that the Halls indicated they are willing to have restrictions and perhaps conservation easements placed on the land. In addition, the town would obtain an appraisal of the property before any sale would take place.

“We don’t buy land without an appraisal, nor should we sell it without an appraisal,” Hall said.

But the lack of any requirement to put town property out to a public bidding process has D’Andrea scrambling to create a new ordinance.

“In other towns there’s a process; it goes out to bid,” she said. “Not to say the highest bidder is necessarily the winner, but there’s a process there.”

During the Ordinance Committee’s last meeting in late January, D’Andrea said town staff was asked to research ordinances in other towns – specifically Cape Elizabeth, which requires an assessment by its Conservation Commission.

Scarborough residents indicated their support of purchasing open space by approving funds for that purpose last November, D’Andrea said.

“It behooves us to look at this as open space for this town and if we’re thinking of selling it we should wonder why,” she said. “If we’re looking to buy (open space) and already have open land, we should really put those two together.”

While Hall said he does not have a problem with an ordinance that lays out a process for the sale of town property, he isn’t convinced that a bidding practice is always a good idea.

“It’s not as simple as a competitive open-bid process with the highest bid taking it,” he said. “It should be the highest and best because of the use; many times an abutter has a unique interest to further the town’s goals because, arguably, the abutter has the most to lose.”

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected].