MILO, Maine — Despite the fact it would have required no local funds, residents rejected on Tuesday the purchase of a plot of land in the downtown that was left vacant last year after an arson fire.
The town received a $500,000 federal grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development for the purchase, redevelopment and marketing of the downtown lots where businesses were destroyed in a Sept. 14, 2008, fire. The deliberately set fire destroyed five buildings and damaged another.
The town has purchased all but two of the privately-owned vacant plots and had hoped to secure the approval of residents at the special town meeting Tuesday to purchase the former Milo True Value property. That move, however, was rejected.
Milo Town Manager Jeff Gahagan said Wednesday he was “very surprised” by the vote.
For the majority of the approximately 30 residents who attended the special town meeting it came down to two issues, according to Milo businessman Butch Cramer, who spoke out against the proposal.
He said many felt the asking price of $48,250 for the parcel was too high considering its assessed value was $13,630.
Secondly, “probably more than anything, I think people need to accept the town for what it is,” Cramer said. “They’re [town officials] under the impression that if they build something down there [downtown], then that’s going to fix all the town’s problems and someone’s going to come and make a viable business.”
Piscataquis County is one of the poorest counties in Maine so if someone were to open a business, Cramer said he didn’t think Milo would be the first place they would build. In addition, the size of the parcel and the parking wouldn’t be sufficient, he said. There’s plenty of vacant properties throughout the town in better loca-tions that could serve businesses, he said.
Cramer said the people who were opposed to it at the special town meeting want the town to prosper, but they also want the town to stay within its limitations.
After a budget meeting Wednesday night, however, Cramer said he learned that he had misunderstood the process. He said he thought the town had to put money up front first in order to get the grant, but that he learned Wednesday that the town already had been approved for the grant for the $48,250 asking price of the parcel in question. Cramer said if the voted came up again he would support it.
Gahagan said earlier Wednesday that town officials plan to discuss the property again with the landowners. “We’ll revisit this again to try to get the benefit of the federal grant money,” he said. “Getting control over that downtown area is imperative for us to do further development.”
The town already has purchased the lots where the former Milo theater, the Spot Game Room, and the Hobnobber’s Pub operated, according to Gahagan. Hobnobber’s Pub has been relocated to the former Arnold building. The owner of the Milo House of Pizza, whose building was heavily damaged but has since been remod-eled, purchased the lot owned by the former Milo Flower Shop and it’s currently unknown what the owner’s intentions are, he said.