AUGUSTA, Maine — State Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, has submitted a bill that would create an additional seat on the Maine Maritime Academy board of trustees, a post to be held specifically by a resident of Castine.
Rosen said the idea behind the proposal is to ensure that the town’s interests are represented on the board and noted that the new board member would act as a liaison between the college and the community. Working to improve the communications between the town and college and enhancing the relationship between MMA and the town of Castine will be the priority of this new position, Rosen said.
“I think this is an opportunity for the relationship to improve between the academy and the community,” Rosen said Tuesday. “This proposal will be a positive step to help facilitate that.”
The proposed legislation, which Rosen plans to send to the Legislature when it begins its session in January, would increase the size of the MMA board of trustees by one member, with the additional member being chosen by the governor from a slate of three offered by the Castine Board of Selectmen.
The proposal grew out of the controversy that developed last year after the college purchased the Abbott House, according to Rosen, who is the assistant minority leader in the Maine Senate. He said he hoped the proposal would help to relieve some of the anxiety in the town that had developed since that decision.
Town officials and community members raised concerns that the planned use of the house as a home for the college’s president violated the town’s zoning ordinance and would expand the academy beyond the established bounds of the town’s institutional zone.
“In the coming months and years as we see changes at Maine Maritime, it will be important that the relationship between the town and college is cultivated so that both can work together for the prosperity of all,” Rosen said. “… It is in everyone’s interest that the town and college work together to work out their differences.”
Although Rosen did not consult the town or the academy about the details of his proposal, he did ask if the selectmen would be able to develop three candidates to present to the governor.
The reaction to the senator’s proposal was mixed. Although officials from the town and the college meet regularly, Castine Town Manager Dale Abernethy said the selectmen viewed the proposal as a positive step.
“The town has always felt that there is a disconnect between the academy administration and the town administration,” Abernethy said. “Having such a person would be beneficial.”
Victoria Larson, the chair of the MMA board of trustees, pointed out that there already are two MMA trustees from Castine on the board; one, Mary Lou Cormier, is a full-time resident, the other, Elizabeth Warren, summers in Castine.
Larson said that she had considered the relationship between the town and the college to be a reasonably good one and that she would need to see the final version of the proposed legislation before she could determine whether to support it.
“If this went through, I think we’d have to look at the make-up of the entire board to make sure we’re getting a good representation, not just from the town, but from all sectors,” Larson said.
Rosen’s proposal would go to the Legislature when it begins its next session in January.
Meanwhile, the court case stemming from the purchase of the Abbott House may be closer to being resolved. At issue is the town’s zoning ordinance that established an institutional development zone. Although located across the street from the MMA campus proper, the Abbott House lies outside the institutional development zone.
The academy has argued that using the property as a residence for the college president is a permitted use under the zoning ordinance. The town, however, has argued that the Abbott House is located in the Village III area and zoned as a residential property, and that its use for MMA purposes are prohibited in that zone.
According to Abernethy, the judge has set Oct. 15 as a date for attorneys from the town and the state Attorney General’s office — which is representing the college — to submit briefs in the case. Responses will be due at the end of the month.
Abernethy said that may be an indication there could be a decision in the case sometime in November.