FREEPORT – Some 60 Freeport residents spent an evening last week sharing their ideas on what the town should do with the land around Hedgehog Mountain and the town-owned athletic fields on Pownal and Hunter roads.
The residents, including several members of the Freeport Town Council, gathered Sept. 27 at the Freeport Community Center to brainstorm ideas for future development on the town-owned recreation lands. Some of the ideas gathered at the meeting, called a “community charette” by town staff, will be used in the town’s application to the state Department of Environmental Protection for a site plan permit, something made necessary after the town elected to back out of a proposed project to build in indoor soccer complex on part of the land.
The ideas put forth included doing nothing at the site, concentrating on developing fields at the high school, building an observation tower on the top of Hedgehog Mountain and reconfiguring Landfill Road to allow for more parking for people attending events at the fields.
Seacoast United Maine had sought to acquire land from the town between the Pownal and Hunter road fields to create a complex with both outdoor and indoor soccer fields. Public sentiment was against the indoor soccer facility, leading the council to reject the proposal.
When the town decided to hold onto the land that Seacoast had eyed for its project, it meant that the state considered the Pownal and Hunter road facilities as one, and since the total size exceeded the 20-acre threshold that the state requires for a site plan permit, the town was obligated to apply for one at a cost of approximately $10,000-$20,000. If the Seacoast project had gone through as planned, a state permit would have still been required, but it would have been the soccer club’s responsibility to secure.
The permit application needs to be filed by the middle of January, and with that time crunch looming, the town elected to hold the community charette instead of forming a committee to look at options for the site, a process that can take up to a year.
Al Palmer, senior vice president of Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers of Gray, the consultant who is working with the town on the project and will be writing the permit application to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said he thought the public planning meeting was a helpful way to get the process started.
“We need direction as to what to include in the plan,” he said, adding that he will be presenting a proposed plan to the Town Council later this month. “This is primarily to provide guidance to the council.”
Palmer said the council would make the final decision as to what to include in the plan submitted to the state, and he will begin working on the permit application after receiving that direction from the council.
When it was put to a vote at the end of the charette, the observation tower idea did not gain much traction among the larger group. Sixty percent of the attendees said they didn’t support including that in the plan. There was agreement, however, with the idea to create more trails to connect with the existing trail system, as 89 percent of residents at the meeting voted to support that idea. It was a closer vote on creating additional parking, but the largest number of residents, 45 percent, said they wanted to connect the Hunter Road fields to Landfill Road, but only in a way designed to minimize traffic using the cut through. Some of the options discussed to minimize the traffic flow included gating off the connecting road, opening it only when events were taking place at the fields.
Some other suggestions at the meeting were building a playground at the Hunter Road site, constructing a sledding hill in the area, constructing a community swimming pool and constructing bus parking at Pownal Road.
Resident Melanie Sachs of Kelsey Ridge Road said she appreciated having the chance to help shape the future of the town-owned land.
“It’s lovely having this opportunity to bring everyone together,” she said. “It’s just terrific. I think it’s just a wonderful process. And we have lots of creativity (in the room).”
Town Council Chairman Jim Cassida was also pleased with the results of the charette.
“I’m very impressed with this,” he said. “No. 1, the turnout has been great. It’s going exactly like we drew it up.”
Cassida said the next step in the process is for Palmer to take the consensuses reached at the meeting and formulate a plan for the council to consider. Cassida added that the council will have to do something that the residents weren’t asked to do during the brainstorming session – consider the cost of the project to the town.
“We will really start having to have a reality check,” he said.
It will be the council’s job to go through the plan and determine which parts the town can afford and include those in the final state application this winter.