‘Another Option’ stirs up strong community support
Seats were left untouched from the time after the May 9 planning board meeting until selectmen met on Monday, May 14. Discussion on Susan and George Craig's advertisement in the Boothbay Register, titled "Another Option," resumed with as many in attendance.
Chair Wendy Wolf set some ground rules for discussion. She urged audience members to be respectful and to stay on the subject of the town acquiring property on the waterfront of Atlantic Avenue for green space and commercial and public water access.
"I'd like to talk about increasing public access tonight in a way that challenges us all to think more strategically and broadly," said Wolf.
One of the challenges as a board is to plan for such a venture and then to rein in the resources to buy a property, take it off the tax rolls and develop the land, said Wolf. "We don't have the resources to make that happen quickly … and we don't, in the budget, set aside a lot of money to buy property."
Wolf said there generally has to be a willing seller and the acquisition of private property by any means is something the voters of the town should approve in an election. The gift of a property to the town would entail work needing to go into the property and an enormous commitment in tax dollars. Susan Craig later explained the fundraising for a purchase would also include the funds to develop the property.
Public forum time brought an outpouring of support for the idea of the town accepting or purchasing a parcel on the east side of the harbor to dedicate to green space and water access.
East side resident Bob McKay asked people to think about what Whale Park used to look like, and about the opposition its development as a point of water access had.
"Without the vision of a few dedicated citizens, which grew into public and town support, there never would have been a park where people could come and enjoy the arts shows, concerts, windjammer and fishermen festivals and events … This is what we want for the east side."
Planning Board Chair Bill Hamblen decided to speak candidly as a resident and he fully endorsed the subject.
"There's no question about it ... I believe it would be best for the town if they could acquire property over there to provide recreational use in addition to the commercial use we already have. I fully support this endeavor."
Resident Ken Fitch remarked from the multiple perspectives his long dog walks provide.
“When people walk across the footbridge, they get to the east side and they look to the left, they look to the right, and then they turn around … The east side is disconnected, in a real sense, from the west side … I'd like to speak in favor of the proposal and I'd also like you to keep in mind that the east side belongs to Boothbay Harbor. It has to be incorporated into the flow of the town," Fitch said.
About another dozen people spoke in favor to the Craigs’ idea and most were passionate for the Cap'n Fish's property which has been a subject of interest for developer Paul Coulombe and by the Craigs and their supporters.
The idea of the town assuming ownership over an east side property is not exactly new. Sea Pier owner Doug Carter stood and reminded the room that 15 years ago, he approached the board with the offer to gift his property to the town.
"When I found out that they were contemplating buying the Co-op at $1.6 million, I came to the selectmen and said, 'I got a better deal for you. I've got deeper water, I've got a dock. You get all your grant money and pour it into it and I will give it to you, I will sign it over to you."
Carter said his cut of the deal would have been allowing him to lease back the property for 25 years to do right by his fishermen, but afterward the town would have had a vacant working waterfront property to use as it saw fit.
Susan Craig thanked the board and the audience for hearing out her idea and for responding positively to the proposal.
"The response has truly been heartening,” said Craig. “There's genuine enthusiasm and support for the idea of a public park and public access docks for the east side.”
Like the public, the board was in full support of the community coming together to discuss an option for saving space for the public interest. Vice-chair Denise Griffin said to keep an eye out for opportunities.
“… We can take advantage of a new opportunity in a new and different way that we've never done before and it may not cost the town a tremendous amount of money … There's more than one way to accomplish this goal,” said Griffin.
Selectman Mike Tomko said the board could very well put some effort into seeing how the town could act and react to accepting gifts or pursuing property. "Sure, dream big. However ... I'm not going to limit myself to 'if not that, then nothing at all."
Selectman Russ Hoffman said the board would likely take action on preparation, but explained the purpose of the select board is to minimize tax expenditures. He reiterated Wolf’s point it takes a willing seller and an able buyer to make something like that happen.
Selectman Tricia Warren said, "Any opportunity that becomes available, we should definitely look at.”
Also May 14, selectmen reelected Wolf chair and Griffin vice chair.
The board unanimously approved Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission's Bob Faunce’s request to sign off on an application for a shore and harbors grant, involving town-owned waterfront properties, namely the Fish Pier and the Footbridge. The grant would award $30,000 and require a municipal match of $10,000.
Financial officer Julia Latter said the town’s revenue and expenses, year to date, total $7,679,318 and $6,692,050, respectively. The total accounts payable are $456,555.87 and the bank balance is $2,773,342.60. Latter said the town has collected 98 percent of taxes.
The next board meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 29.