Topsham weighs waterfront park opportunities

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TOPSHAM — A waterfront park for the town could be getting closer to fruition as a site suitability study nears completion.

Town Planner Rich Roedner was scheduled to update the Board of Selectmen on a draft waterfront access study report at the board’s meeting on Thursday, Nov. 3. The board was also expected to decide whether to recommend appropriating money from reserves to help pay for conceptual design services for a Lower Village Waterfront Park.

Topsham has about $26,000 in a reserve account for a waterfront park, Roedner said. Voters will decide how much to take from that account for design work at a Nov. 30 special Town Meeting.

The area of Green Street, near the old fire station and the Androscoggin River, has long been eyed by the town, but suggested proposals did not fit the space, Roedner said.

The town recently used a $20,000 grant from the Maine State Planning Office to hire consultants to gather input from the public. The study also investigated what would make sense for the area.

The old fire station stands partly on half an acre of town property and on waterfront land owned by the Fore River Co., which also owns the Bowdoin Mill.

Roedner said the constraints and opportunities of the space – a total of about two acres – are being investigated.

One constraint is a 24-foot drop to the water.

“It’s not this gentle walk to the water, carrying your boat with you; it’d be a process to get there,” Roedner said.

The Wright-Pierce engineering firm, the lead consultant on the project, produced a draft waterfront access study report.

That report noted that as a result of the input-gathering process, there was general consensus in favor of hand-carry boat access, with some public gathering space or an area for a park. Improvements to pedestrian and bicycle access and vehicular traffic flow throughout the Lower Village were also desired, as well as adequate parking for local businesses and park users.

The draft report recommends the town proceed with a preliminary design plan outlining “the scale and location of park and waterfront improvements with the Village Area that it feels will best meet the needs of the community.”

Its plans should consider the immediate and long-term goals for waterfront access in light of existing resources, the report states.

Those plans should also consider the need to acquire additional land or easements if necessary, and show any possible private landowners a clear plan of Topsham’s development goals “with the understanding that it may be unlikely that the Town will be able to acquire a significant portion of remaining undeveloped land in the Lower Village with waterfront access,” according to the report.

The document also notes that the scale of project construction costs and impact on environmentally regulated resources should be closely examined to come up with a realistic schedule for implementing the project, and its funding needs.

A public meeting on the preliminary plan will be held Nov. 21, with a final plan expected in December.

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

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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.