Hearing set for former Hampden Academy redevelopment proposal

Posted Aug. 04, 2013, at 5:51 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — Town councilors are slated to take some key votes on a redevelopment proposal for the former Hampden Academy property during meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in the council chambers.

A public hearing will precede the council’s deliberations, Mayor Janet Hughes said Saturday.

Town councilors are poised to decide whether the town will enter a redevelopment deal with hoteliers Danny and Carla Lafayette. Before they can do so, however, they must approve an ordinance authorizing the sale of the former high school complex and an ordinance amendment that would change the former high school parcel from its current Residential A and Residential B zoning designations to Village Commercial.

The next step, if they decide to take it, would be to approve a purchase and sale agreement for the 22-acre site and the buildings on it, and a lease agreement that would allow the town to continue to use the former high school gym as a recreation center.

Negotiations between the town and the LaFayettes have been going on since early spring.

“I just think everybody is ready to make a decision and to move on, whatever that decision might be, because we have analyzed it to death and it’s just time to make a decision,” she said.

As of Saturday, however, there was no consensus among councilors as to what direction the town will take on the property, Hughes said.

“The council has really been split and not just in half,” she said. “And we have an even number of council members because one resigned. So I think we have a third, a third and a third going in,” she said of the six-member panel.

Some on the council think the redevelopment project should go through a public request for proposals process, Hughes said. Others think the town should keep the property as a town center and sell portions of the property for private development. Still others say the property should be sold to the LaFayettes — who she pointed out are longtime residents and who have the town’s best interest in mind — so that no more tax dollars will be needed to maintain it, she said.

“So it makes it a hard decision because you go, ‘Gee, they have a nice philosophy on life, they live in the downtown, they’re not going to put a McDonald’s there and they have the financial resources to make something happen there,’” she said. “The uncertainty is [over] what they have in mind for redevelopment.”

Town officials and the Lafayettes have been in talks about the former high school property since spring, according to published reports. The Lafayettes in May formed Historic Hampden Academy LLC, the legal entity that will take on the redevelopment, if a deal is struck. Town officials earlier confirmed that the Lafayettes want to develop all 22 acres of the old Hampden Academy property without tearing down the main buildings.

The Lafayettes, who have a chain of 27 hotels in Maine and beyond, made a preliminary offer to cover most of the cleanup and other applicable costs associated with developing the land into office building complexes, health or retail malls, restaurants, hotels, housing units or retirement communities.

Some of the details of the deal were unveiled during a July 15 meeting but councilors decided not to vote on the ordinance required to convey the property and a purchase and sale agreement at that time because the residents were learning about the terms negotiated between town officials and the LaFayettes for the first time that night.

Hughes said the town needs to decide the fate of the old school soon because it does not want to incur from $20,000 to $100,000 in heating costs for vacant parts of the complex, parts of which likely would be isolated and shut down.

Before talks with the Lafayettes began this spring, the town had entertained inquiries from a variety of other interested parties including Beal College, Eastern Maine Community College and the Bangor Police Department, according to previous Bangor Daily News stories.

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