In the Thomaston Town newsletter published Wednesday, May 3, the authors set out to “talk green…the Thomaston Green.”

They allude to the importance of having voters make informed decisions on competing warrant articles regarding this scenic and expansive open space, with unimpeded sweeping views of the St George River. Yet this “talk” is one sided, tainted with their bias for development.

It is the Selectboard, united (with one abstention) in their opposition to the citizen’s initiative, who have set in motion a most contentious dynamic. Being unable to sink the citizen’s efforts — the article was lawfully drafted and submitted — they’ve spent our tax dollars to have the town attorney draft an article to place on the ballot in direct opposition to ours, reflecting their long held desire to develop the Thomaston Green.

In the newsletter they claim if “you vote yes on Article #3….The Green will not be restricted to a public park, which gives flexibility for future uses of the 15.6 acres.” The current laws and zoning, originating in 2008, currently provide for this “flexibility.” So it would appear the Selectboard is asking voters to vote on an article already in effect. So one might ask, is the intention of their article No. 3 an effort to set up a highly charged issue in hopes of thwarting the protection of this property? The voters, as recently as 2020, resoundingly rejected two housing development proposals. In the 15 years the town has had the ability to bring development proposals before the voters, they have either collapsed during negotiations or been rejected.

The authors also make mention of the currently maintained parks within Thomaston. Thomaston is a drive–through town. Route 1 cuts through the heart of it. NONE of these parks have the expanse of land that defines the Green and only one — a sliver park flanked by two roads — is visible from Route 1. Only the Green offers the opportunity to define Thomaston as the quaint, scenic community it is, drawing visitors and residents alike. NONE have the acreage to support park features, which should Article 4 pass, the citizens might desire and organize to raise funds to support.

There are multiple state and federal funding sources to support parks we cannot access without first voting to make it a park. Residents often speak of their interest in the Green as a site for a farmers market, community gardens, a pickleball court, a playground — and only the Green has the acreage to accommodate such features. And ONLY if citizens defeat the town’s persistent effort to develop this land at the ballot box on June 14.

The newsletter also lays out ten “Green Facts.” Yet they cherry pick the facts to bolster their pro-development position. And the vast majority of the “facts” they cite are over ten years old. Nowhere do they lay out the many benefits to having the entirety of the Green permanently protected as a park.

Nowhere do they reference in Thomaston’s recent Comprehensive Plan residents noted characteristics they most like to be “open space and vistas, walkability…” The Green is our most open space, easily walkable and accessible to all age groups. Were they truly interested in having the voters make an informed decision the authors would have shared parks increase our property values, alleviate the poor health outcomes in Maine, provide safe recreational and social opportunities for residents and attract families and retirees alike to settle here.

The Selectboard has also chosen to ignore and work at cross purposes with the very study it initiated, at great expense to taxpayers. In 2020, the Selectboard hired a professional to develop a Parks and Trails Master Plan. The draft plan concludes Thomaston residents support and have as a priorities the following:

• The maintenance of existing parks & recreation assets;

• Additional park features to serve multigenerational and year-round uses;

• Expansion of existing trail networks and improvements aimed at safety and accessibility;

• Expand and diversify programs, activities, and events;

• Expand Town Green park space.

These priorities are the result of extensive surveys which they contracted for, and yet they’ve chosen to challenge the citizens own efforts to provide an opportunity to meet these priorities on the most visible, accessible and spectacular land in this town.

Also in their published “Green Facts” the Selectboard says “the town has invested $866,000 since acquiring the Green in 2005…” They do not mention the town acquired it in a land/debt forgiveness swap with the state. We own the Green. Nor do they mention it was the town that pushed to have a road and other infrastructure put into the Green in 2012 — our own road to nowhere — at great expense, under the mistaken assumption it would attract developers. When developers finally did come up with a plan for senior and non-profit housing, the voters overwhelmingly rejected those proposals. They don’t mention that in their “Green Facts.”

In Maine Biz an October 2020 article quotes former, and currently running, Selectboard member Bill Hahn as saying, “The town has put $555,000 into the site, but there isn’t a big bill to pay.” Yet the newsletter published May 3 states the town has invested over $866,000 since acquiring the Green, with $250,000 funded by grants. These numbers are conflicting, suspect and we deserve a full and honest accounting.

The Selectboard has had over 15 years to attract, plan and propose development, which they continue to claim this town wants based on an outdated vote in 2008. We challenge that claim and at great cost in time and resources we, a loosely organized group of Friends of the Green, are giving the voters an opportunity to express what they want TODAY. No doubt development is what the Selectboard wants, yet they seem to have forgotten they were elected to represent the people. We canvassed the streets and recognize there is a very large group who treasure having a magnificent park space to enjoy which also serves as a scenic welcome mat to all who visit.

Their newsletter also neglects to mention these facts, which are also mentioned in the Parks and Trails Master Plan they’ve commissioned. Parks have been enhanced and maintained in towns in Maine through multiple sources. Currently, because we own the land, it is not taxed. The maintenance of it is in the town budget, along with the maintenance of other smaller parks and schools recreational fields. Thomaston Green, should we vote to make it a park, qualifies for funding through the multiple sources. Here are just some of the organizations which support parks with funding:

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources;

Trust for Public Land;

Department of Environmental Protection;

And Land and Water Conservation Fund — Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

Many communities form Park Alliances, non-profits and conservation groups to raise funds, partner with other non-profits and apply for grants to maintain and enhance parks.

There was an early proposal for development that never materialized, by Berman Associates. Mr. Berman has since been quoted as saying, “That it makes a great park-and probably ought to stay one. It is a great asset for the town and could probably be even more so if the town committed to a thoughtful recreational master plan to use it more intensively.”

And yet, here we are. With a Selectboard that refuses to acknowledge the 15.6 acres is too great an asset to lose, using our tax dollars for a parks master plan that does not include the entire Green and hell bent on selling off lots to development.

We are all acutely aware of the environmental strain we have placed on this planet. The landscape is scarred with examples of how human beings have repeatedly exploited land and resources for expediency and economic gain. There are town owned buildings which can be converted to other important uses. The Maine legislature recently passed tax credits and incentives to make these conversions to address the housing crisis.

The Selectboard has taken a stance that the wording of Article 4 is somehow a threat…that the Green will be permanently protected as a public park. We would like to know why they object to the preservation of a park and why they take a position that denies us access to funding to protect and enhance it. Parks are not threatening, and permanently protecting them is the very point of conservation.

Unfortunately, laws are overturned everyday, yet we will remain committed to protecting that land from development, should Article 4 pass and be challenged in the future and regardless of the outcome of the vote on June 14.

Thomaston will vote between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. June 14 and we urge citizens to say YES to preserving the most extraordinary open space, that forty years from now we believe the next generation will see as our gift to them. It will be seen as the legacy of residents who dared to buck the town government and fight to save this increasingly rare jewel of open space on the coast of Maine, that Thomaston is so fortunate to have. We simply cannot afford to squander it.