Tuesday, December 10, 2013
FREEPORT – More than 40 people are expected to attend a community planning session Thursday evening that will help determine development options for town-owned recreation lands on Hunter and Pownal roads.
The meeting will be the latest step in the town's effort to address lingering controversy over playing fields that were built last year on Hunter Road without a comprehensive review by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Participants will be asked to dream big and consider all possibilities for a largely wooded, 250-acre tract of town-owned land that includes a playing field on Pownal Road and hiking trails around Hedgehog Mountain.
"We don't want people to dwell on costs," said Town Council Chairman Jim Cassida. "We want them to concentrate on developing a vision for what that property should be."
Figuring out what's "doable" and how to pay for it would come later, Cassida said Wednesday.
The planning session will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Freeport Community Center on Depot Street.
Forty residents representing a cross-section of the community had signed up for the planning session as of Wednesday, and more are expected to attend, said Donna Larson, the town planner.
The meeting will be moderated by Lesa Andreasen, a professional facilitator who lives in Freeport. Participants will be divided into small groups to brainstorm any and all ideas for the recreational area.
Shared goals and ideas will be distilled into a development plan, which the town will submit to the DEP as part of an application for a comprehensive site plan permit, Larson said. The application must be filed by mid-January.
Town officials initially tried to avoid a comprehensive DEP review, designing the $2.3 million Hunter Road fields project to cover only 19.7 acres, according to outgoing Town Manager Dale Olmstead. Any project of 20 acres or more triggers a detailed DEP review, which can cost at least $40,000 in engineering fees.
DEP officials gave the town a basic permit for the Hunter Road fields last year, then they decided earlier this year that the pre-existing playing field on Pownal Road should have triggered a comprehensive review. State environmental laws require greater scrutiny of similar projects on shared land.
Getting a comprehensive permit for the recreational area could cost much more than expected, Cassida said. Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers of Gray, the firm hired to help prepare the DEP permit application, has warned town officials that anticipated stormwater removal improvements at the Pownal Road field could cost as much as $140,000.
A development plan for the recreational area will be delivered to the Town Council in the coming weeks, Cassida said. The council will take public comment on the plan before voting on a final draft to include in the DEP permit application.
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: