Scarborough board recommends purchase of Higgins Beach, Nonesuch River parcels

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SCARBOROUGH — The Parks and Conservation Land Board (PCLB) is recommending the town use up to $635,000 of land bond funds to purchase several properties it considers significant either for their conservation value or for maintaining public access to the ocean.

The parcels owned by the Vasile family include 39 and 43 Ocean Ave. – the two properties that make up the public parking lot at Higgins Beach – and three adjacent Mussey Road properties that back up to the Nonesuch River. The children of James Vasile offered the parcels to the town below market value.

The Land for Maine’s Future Access to Maine’s Waters Fund will provide matching funds to purchase the properties.

According to Town Manager Tom Hall, a recent appraisal that came in slightly under the expected total will probably make the town’s share a bit less than the $635,000 originally anticipated. As a result, the town is renegotiating the agreement with the family, which has asked for Higgins Beach parking passes as a condition of the sale.

Hall said he expects to have an agreement in front of councilors at their next meeting.

In the PCLB’s Jan. 20 recommendation, Chairwoman Suzanne Foley-Ferguson said the assessment the board uses to evaluate properties is not designed to rate parcels like the parking lot, but rather to assess conservation value.

“Therefore, the board voted to forgo the empirical assessment,” Foley-Ferguson wrote. “The unquestionable value these (Higgins Beach) parcels provide is public access to one of the finest sand beaches on the coast of Maine.”

The Spurwink River, which flows into the ocean next to Higgins Beach, has been listed by the State Planning Office’s Maine Coastal Program as a Coastal Water Access Priority Site, Foley-Ferguson said. The evaluation cited the beach’s significance as an area that supports fishing and recreation.

The board’s assessment of the Nonesuch River properties on Mussey Road scored them higher than the Sewell Woods and Whitten properties, both of which were purchased with land bond funds.

According to the report, the parcels’ greatest value is their 250 feet of upland buffer in a significant watershed. The report said the land “gains high points for shape and its potential to create a link to other large parcels, including a bog.”

The Nonesuch River has been earmarked in the town’s Comprehensive Plan as an “important conservation area.”

“This is an incredible opportunity for the Town of Scarborough that is only possible because of the generosity of the (Vasile) family and the help from the state of Maine,” the report concludes. “The project comes with our full and utmost support.”

In a phone interview this week, Foley-Ferguson said James Vasile initially offered the Higgins Beach property to the town about 10 years ago, but the town declined.

“It’s very honorable of the kids to think about Jimmy’s wishes and sell it to the town at a bargain price; it’s a really incredible thing they’ve done,” she said.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or