Special Town Meeting OKs Topsham tax incentives, neighborhood plan

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TOPSHAM — Voters approved a neighborhood revitalization plan and two proposed tax increment financing proposals Wednesday at a special Town Meeting.

The gathering, held at Mt. Ararat High School, ran about 40 minutes and drew 55 voters – less than 1 percent of the town’s nearly 7,000 registered voters.

“The articles this evening are not asking to fund any project,” Donald Russell, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said at the start of the meeting. “What the articles, if approved, will do, is set a process in place that will have a positive impact on community and economic development.”

He noted that all allocations of funds to implement any project would still have to go to Town Meeting for approval.

One of the two proposed TIFs, for affordable senior housing, will be created at 29 Elm St. for River Landing, a three-story apartment building proposed for the former Amenity Manor nursing home property. The facility will contain 36 units, and the TIF would help keep them affordable.

The Planning Board recently granted River Landing final subdivision and site plan approvals.

Elm Street resident Jill Wallace expressed opposition to the TIF, saying she enjoys the neighborly nature of the street, “and I really don’t want a 36-unit structure on that site.”

She acknowledged that the current building is “an eyesore,” but suggested there are other possibilities for the property.

The other TIF will be anchored by Main Street and will be the second in Topsham designated as municipal (the first is at Topsham Fair Mall).

The district will stretch along Main Street from the Frank J. Woods Bridge to near the Interstate 295 overpass, including some property northeast of Route 196. It will also include the Lower Village, Middle Village, Village Center, Limited Industrial, Business Park 2 and Residential 4 zones.

John Shattuck, Topsham’s economic and community development director, has said the municipal TIF discussion was prompted by the potential of a Lower Village waterfront park and connected traffic improvements; conveyance of the Topsham Commerce Park (formerly the U.S. Navy Annex) to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, and continuing budget challenges.

“All (the proposal) is doing is increasing the amount of tools that Topsham has in its toolbox to deal with potential business development down the road,” Joshua Spooner of Schoolhouse Crossing Road, a member of Topsham Development, said.

Voters also adopted the Elm and Green Streets Neighborhood Revitalization Plan. Recent studies have examined the potential for redevelopment of Topsham’s lower village, including waterfront access, traffic and the feasibility of a riverside trail.

But while the area is a significant and historic component of Topsham’s downtown, a town press release noted earlier this year, it is not included in Topsham’s Main Street plan, nor does it have a specific redevelopment plan.

Voters also adopted an amendment to Topsham’s zoning ordinance on light manufacturing uses, and authorized a Community Development Block Grant application.

The application is on behalf of Wicked Joe Coffee Roasting Co., for a grant of $270,000. Shattuck said earlier this month that the company has been considering moving into the former Navy Commissary.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. 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.