YORK, Maine — Voters will be able to decide this November if they want to buy the Davis property on York Street for $7.5 million after both the Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee voted to put the matter on the ballot last week.
They agreed it was important to follow the will of the people, who last May overwhelmingly said they wanted the opportunity to decide whether to buy the 106-acre parcel. But all five selectmen and four of seven Budget Committee members said they do not believe the town should own the land and they made their voices loud and clear in their preference votes.
The votes were taken at separate meetings of the boards last week, both of which included lively public comment.
At issue is a property with entrances on York Street and Raydon Road that is currently field and forest. In July, the Planning Board gave final approval to plans for the Mary McIntire Davis Trust to build a 115-unit development — plans that will go forward if residents vote down the ballot question in November.
Selectmen hired an appraiser who pegged the developed valued of property at $5.2 million. Mal Davis, a trust member, said he took the value of an 85-acre parcel the town of Kennebunkport purchased last year for $10 million to keep it from development, calculated the cost per acre, and applied that to the trust’s property, coming up with a value of $12 million. He said knowing that wouldn’t fly, he discounted that price by 40 percent to come up with the trust’s $7.5 million asking price.
The selectmen and Budget Committee members who cast a preference vote against purchase said it was too costly, that residential development of the property is a good idea and that it is troubling its use as town property is unknown. On the other hand, three Budget Committee members, including its two youngest, cast votes in favor of the purchase, saying townspeople are being presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the town’s future.
Several officials said resident Sandra Beauvais in her public comments to both groups positioned the question before voters succinctly.
“There are two parts to this,” she told them. “One is the quantitative amount of the land, what the appraiser determined the developed piece of property is worth. The qualitative part is what the voters of Kennebunkport saw — and that’s what this land is worth to each person, to the citizens, to the future.”
In expressing her own point of view, she said “of course there has to be a money part. But 20 years from now, my granddaughter is going to say, ‘That’s all they wanted?’ This property is unique. It’s not like anyplace else. You have to take the long view.”
But a number of board and committee members said they can’t get past today’s numbers and the lack of a defined plan for the land.
Budget Committee member Jerry Allen estimated the total cost of a taxable bond on $7.5 million will be $9.3 million with interest. Further, he said, the property purchase is not in the five-year capital plan, and might put in jeopardy other town and school capital needs. “In my opinion, it’s financially irresponsible.”
His thoughts resonated with members of both boards. Selectman Robert Palmer said he, too, thinks about the capital projects that may be compromised, and said “to me the cost is just a little too high.” Ted Little of the Budget Committee, as well as Selectmen Mike Estes, Todd Frederick and Marilyn McLaughlin, said they were swayed by what they see as the positive potential of a housing development on the town.
“The plan approved by the Planning Board satisfies the comprehensive plan for small homes, half of it is green space, there are trails around the entire perimeter, the land is in the growth zone, and it will have a positive impact on our schools,” Little said.
“I hear from customers who want this kind of housing,” said Estes, who has a heating oil company. “Their houses are large, they can’t keep them up, and they want a place where someone mows the lawn and shovels the driveway. Now they’re going to Shepherd’s Cove [in Kittery] but they would rather stay in town.”
Budget Committee Chair Nan Graves said she would vote to purchase the property “in a heartbeat” if there was a clear plan for its use, and the town was using a tax-exempt bond instead of a taxable bond as anticipated. “To ask the taxpayers to invest $7.5 million in an ‘I don’t know’ doesn’t make sense to me from a budgetary standpoint.” Her position was also supported by Selectman Liz Blanchard.
But Budget Committee members Jim Smith, Heather Campbell and Michael Spencer all said the land’s value to the town is too important to pass up.
Smith said he was going to accept the town’s appraisal “for what it is,” but added, “I think what’s missing, in my mind, is what will the municipality pay for a piece of property that it feels is important for the town identity, for its sense of place?” Too often, he said, society is thinking about the short term, about quarterly profits, “and then it moves on. I think this is a special case where I’m willing to take the long view.”
Campbell said when she bought her home, the cost per acre was more than $100,000. The Davis land is being sold at $72,621 per acre, “and I would have gladly paid that. I think that as a mom with two young children, this is the land that my kids are going to use.”
Spencer said he was concerned about the future cost of private development of the property — in terms of need for increased public safety, increased cost to the schools and more. “That’s an unknown and that concerns me.” Overall, he added, “the possibilities of that property, where it’s located, could give us a lot more opportunity we’re not even thinking about today.”