FREEPORT – Town officials are making headway in their efforts to improve access to municipal playing fields on Hunter and Pownal roads.

The Project Review Board gave unanimous approval Wednesday night to a plan to build a recreational lodge and other amenities to serve seven new athletic fields on Hunter Road.

On Tuesday night, the Town Council voted 6-1 against a proposal to transfer ownership of playing fields on Pownal Road to Regional School Unit 5.

The council also decided to seek an after-the-fact, comprehensive review by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for recreational uses on the entire 60-acre swath of town-owned land between Hunter and Pownal roads.

Sara Gideon, the council’s vice chairwoman, said Wednesday night that “We want to evaluate the whole area so we get the best value for our citizens. … This is a fabulous project that will benefit the entire community.”

Town officials had tried to avoid a comprehensive DEP review, designing the $2.3 million Hunter Road fields project to cover only 19.7 acres. Projects of 20 acres or more trigger a detailed DEP review that can cost as much as $40,000 in consulting fees.

The pre-existing playing fields on Pownal Road should have triggered a comprehensive review under state environmental laws pertaining to common or similar schemes of the development, DEP officials said recently after granting a basic permit last year.

The council considered giving the seven acres on Pownal Road to the school district because it would have removed the pre-existing similar use and eliminated the need for an after-the-fact DEP review of the Hunter Road fields, which opened this month.

To minimize the cost of a comprehensive review, town officials are investigating whether the DEP can give the town permit-granting authority to review projects according to state environmental laws, Gideon said.

The amenities approved Wednesday night for the Hunter Road fields include a 1,600-square-foot lodge for bathrooms and concessions, a 20-foot-by-40-foot covered pavilion and a 20-foot-by-40-foot playground, all clustered in the center of the outdoor complex.

A second pavilion of the same size will be built closer to the entrance. It likely will be the first structure built on the property, but it’s unclear when construction will start, said Kirk Cameron, chairman of the Hunter Road Fields Advisory Committee.

The project also calls for construction of a septic system to serve the lodge and two gravel pads where portable toilets would be placed during major events. The lodge would be open April through November, Cameron said.

The pending DEP review isn’t expected to affect construction of the lodge or other amenities, Gideon said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]