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Thomaston stakes out The Green

By Christine Simmonds | Sep 09, 2020
Photo by: Christine Simmonds Select Board member Bill Hahn speaks about the development proposals at the Gazebo on Sept 8.

Thomaston — The Thomaston Select Board held an informational meeting at the Thomaston Green gazebo Sept. 8 regarding two proposed developments for the space.

One proposal is senior housing built by Avesta Housing, a Maine-based nonprofit with several housing projects throughout Maine and some in other New England states.

A second proposal is a residential facility for Coastal Opportunities, a nonprofit that works with individuals with disabilities. Coastal Opportunities currently has a facility on Main Street, and the proposal would relocate the six residents in that home.

The public will vote on these proposals, as well as the town budget and other Warrant articles, Sept. 15 at the annual Town Meeting. Voting will occur from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. by secret ballot.

During the meeting Sept. 8, both Avesta Housing and Coastal Opportunities had the property staked out to demonstrate to the public how much open space would still be available if the developments are built. The Select Board also had a map of how much space the town would continue to retain.

The Select Board and those in favor pointed out that the space around the gazebo and the walkway installed by the town will remain undeveloped. “This area has always been reserved as public space,” said Select Board Member Bill Hahn.

Others in favor of the proposals said the plan has always been to develop the land since the town acquired it.

Thomaston resident Marjorie Kinney spoke in favor of the Coastal Opportunities proposal. Kinney mentioned her son Kurt, who is a resident at the Main Street home. She said Kurt attends a local church and has been a Thomaston resident for 20 years. “Occupants of the home are all nice, quiet people who you would not mind having as your neighbor,” said Kinney.

Kinney said the residents are getting older and require new housing to age in place. They have become part of the community, and wish to continue living in Thomaston.

Jon Eaton from Economic Development Committee said he remembered opposition to the town purchasing the land in the first place unless they promised to develop the space. “If we had said we were going to keep the space as open space, people wouldn’t have voted for it,” Eaton said.

Eaton pointed out that the most frequently used space would be the areas remaining undeveloped, and Avesta would pay $55,000 a year in taxes.

Eaton also reminded property abutters that the project still has to go through the Planning Board.

Ben Griffin, a member of the Economic Development Committee, reminded those present that two years ago Thomaston voters had chosen to have water, sewer, and electricity put on those lots with the express purpose of developing the land. He said this indicated that Thomaston voters still support developing the Green.

Those against the proposed developments have expressed concern about the space being developed at all. They fear the developments will lower real estate values, and express a lack of perceived benefits for the town. Some voiced concern about voting for such a big project during a pandemic.

Residents at the meeting said the Green is used every day, and how rare it is to find open and undeveloped spaces like it.

Resident Chris Crossman asked if the town had looked into selling any other properties to these developers. “I’m for senior housing and the group home, but it seems like this is the only open space we have,” said Crossman.

Crossman also wrote an email to Town Manager Kara George stating that the passion displayed at the meeting indicated that the projects should be tabled until after the pandemic. This way a larger public meeting could be held and more information could be obtained about the projects.

Crossman’s email also says that some residents have always supported keeping the Green as an open space. “We considered future ‘development’ to be in the realm of landscaping, benches, picnic tables, possibly a sledding hill and a covered, open-sided ice skating facility that could double as a wading pool,” he wrote.

“Times and priorities have changed,” Crossman wrote. “I and others would welcome the opportunity to re-think what we are doing before leaping into the commercial development unknown.”

Resident Cindy Lang said she has still not received answers to questions she has been asking since June.

Lang said she and her neighbors are busy, and have not had time to hold a community discussion. She also pointed out that the plan to develop the Green is more than a decade old. “How many people are here today that were not taxpayers when the original decision was made?” she asked.

Lang said that no matter who purchases the Green property it will be “the biggest bargain in the state of Maine,” as the property is waterfront and undeveloped. “There are so many issues to discuss,” she said. “This space is not that big,” she added, and is the only undeveloped land from Portland to Ellsworth on Route One. “And we’re going to give it up?” she asked.

Board member Zel Bowman-Laberge said the board has been working on a response to her questions. “We want to be sure we send out accurate information,” Bowman-Leberge said.

Since the meeting, George has said that Lang’s email contained approximately 27 questions that required research. “Zel Bowman-Laberge sent Cindy a lengthy response today in an effort to answer all 27 questions,” she added.

George has also said that the two articles regarding the proposals cannot be delayed by law, and the town has already received some absentee ballots. “As Maine Municipal Association (MMA) Legal has advised us, voters can vote yes or no on the question, but the question cannot be tabled from a paper ballot,” said George.

More information on the proposals can be found at the Thomaston Town Meeting Hub.

(Photo by: Christine Simmonds)
The space for the proposed Avesta Housing development, staked out on Sept. 8. (Photo by: Christine Simmonds)
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Comments (1)
Posted by: Marian E. Sargent | Sep 14, 2020 20:48

Save The Thomaston Green!

Thomaston residents, please VOTE NO to allow developers to build housing, including a 48-space parking lot on the Thomaston Green.  I've given detailed descriptions why current voters should vote NO in response to Chris Crosman's letter about The Green in the Courier Gazette Letters to the Editor Section, dated 9/11. So I don't want to repeat myself here but there are a few other points related to this article that I want to make

 

Avesta is a mult-million dollar non-profit housing developer with 48 senior housing complexes in Maine and NH listed on their website, with 3 more being built right now.  That's a bit more than "several" complexes as the article states.  They staked out the footprint of their proposed 3 floor, 40-48 apartment complex, they did not indicate the land for the parking area, which goes to the line of trees heading back toward the and back to the road Gazebo and running parallel to Rte 1 to the antique store property.  The bulk of the land they want to build their parking lot on was designated in the 2012 site plan as being retained by the.Town of Thomaston as green space, it isn't to be sold off.  I don't understand how town representatives found the Avesta proposal as acceptable;  because they want to use town-owned land it should have been rejected out of hand.  Their taxes will be $55,000 a year, I have asked and not yet received a response to the question, how much more will it cost our Police, Fire, and EMT departments to provide services to 48 individuals/couples age 55+ moving in to our town.  Typically residents in this age group often have more medical issues and require more town services.  This project will not noticeably reduce individuals' taxes.  Likewise, the Coastal Opportunities home would not pay taxes at all so their development on our Green would not help the town financially.  If the town's goal with these two developments is to make money for the town they failed, the tax amount is negligible in the scope of the town budget.

Re; Bill Hahn's comment that the area around the gazebo will always be public space, town representatives explained Tuesday night that land has part of the old prison under it so they don't have the ability to develop it.  The strips of land around the beautiful gazebo are not adequate for a town-wide event centered around the gazebo.  I specifically think of "old timey" brass band concerts which were popular in the rural town I came from four years ago - Throughout the summer local bands played, families spread blankets, had picnics, children danced, older folks sang along, vendors sold food and other items.  It brought people together.  The land around the gazebo designated to stay green on the 2012 plan is not large enough for such an event and selling off the green would essentially make the gazebo useless.

 

Re: Jon Eaton's comment that if the town members thought the land would be kept as open space they wouldn't have voted to purchase the land in 2004.  Well what should those voters think about the land being left under-used all these years?  I just came from the planning board meeting where someone wanted permission to set up an antiques show on The Green in a couple of weeks.  He noted that it's a beautiful spot and asked what's it's typically used for.  The response was soccer and walking.  Why hasn't the town been a bit more forward thinking over the past 16 years in how to use the Town Green space if they were all that concerned about lowering taxes?  if the antique show is successful they'd like to come back again next year.  I could see many more events like it thoughout each year.  The planning board approved this fellow's request but there was no plan in place for such an event, no fee scale already in place, they're going to discuss what an appropriate fee should be per table.  Really?  The town has this beautiful event space for 16 years and has no fee schedule to charge for renting it out.  I checked out the Rockland town website for their fee schedule for renting their green spaces, their prices in 2017 were $200-$1400 per day depending on the space.  Thomaston should have had created a similar fee scale, 16 years ago, and should have actively sought to attract some of the smaller events that are in Rockland or other events to make money over that time.  That's lost income but we can change things now by voting no against the two housing projects, to try and regain those losses while keeping The Green open space.

 

Bill Griffin's comment that voters approving water, sewer and electricity to The Green a couple years ago indicates that town folk still want housing developments  there.  That's the assumption he made.  Funny, when I saw those things added to the Green in addition to the gazebo I assumed the town shifted gears and planned to make the space available for vendors and events to make use of the green.  Assumptions without further dialog and information exchange between town government and current residents leads to confusion and dissatisfaction for Thomaston's citizens.

One last comment about the town's response to residents, LaborDay weekend I sent an email to Kara George with questions and concerns about the development proposals, I told her I didn't expect a response Tuesday since I knew she'd be getting ready for that night's site presentation.  She responded anyhow and answered my email fully.  I have no problem with the town representatives wanting to follow through on what they were told the town wanted 16 years ago, I feel they are trying to act in good faith, following through with attracting developers as they were charged to do.  My concern is that the vote to develop The Green is out of date, not relevant or cost-saving anymore, and may go against the wishes of current voters, who are living in Thomaston now.  Any 17 year old who lived in town in 2004 is 33 now, quite possibly a homeowner or parent.  Can we in good conscience say tough luck, we don't care what you would like for Thomaston's future, live with a decision made 16 years ago?  They and the rest of current residents are the ones who will have to live with it if our beautiful green gets sold off.  Please vote no to the development and let's go back to the drawing board to come up with a plan that benefits ALL Thomaston residents.  Thank you.



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