A group of Freeport residents is expected to deliver a petition to the Town Council tonight asking officials to abide by a ban on commercial development of public open space and residential land west of the village center.

The ban, part of the town charter, is the latest hurdle for the Seacoast United Maine soccer club in its effort to develop an indoor-outdoor field complex on town-owned land near Hedgehog Mountain.

The Save Our Neighborhoods Coalition plans to present more than 200 signatures, gathered online and door to door, from townspeople who say residential concerns should get equal consideration in a town that openly promotes commercial interests.

“We’re encouraging people to come to the council meeting, stand up and speak out,” one coalition member, Lucy Lloyd, said Monday. “We want to show that many people in town don’t support the Seacoast proposal and don’t want commercial development in our residential areas.”

Lloyd and other coalition members, who have organized in recent weeks to fight the soccer club’s proposal, say it would undermine residential zoning that protects about 70 percent of a town dominated by L.L. Bean and other business interests.

They note that Freeport, with only 7,900 residents, has several active business organizations, including the nonprofit Freeport Economic Development Corp., whose office is in Town Hall and whose board includes several elected or appointed town officials.

The council will meet at 6:30 tonight at Town Hall. The coalition plans a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Freeport Community Library to discuss ways to increase public involvement in the town’s development decisions.

The coalition invited the council to attend Wednesday’s meeting, but council Chairman Jim Cassida declined, noting that if more than two councilors attend, it will violate the state’s open meeting law. Cassida said one or two councilors may attend as representatives of the board, and he offered to schedule a workshop meeting with the coalition in the future.

Cassida, who serves on the economic development corporation’s board, disputed the notion that Seacoast’s proposal is a done deal, or that the council favors business interests above residents’ concerns.

“Freeport has a vibrant commercial area, but the council listens to all perspectives,” he said.

The town charter, amended in 2010, says the council “shall not amend the Freeport Comprehensive Plan to designate a Growth Area west of I-95 between Beech Hill Road and the Desert Road, commonly referred to as the West Freeport Village Area.”

The area contains a 250-acre tract of town-owned land, between Hunter and Pownal roads, that includes Hedgehog Mountain Trails, the town’s recycling center and former landfill, the Pownal Road athletic fields and the ongoing Freeport Fields and Trails project.

Despite the ban in the charter, the council decided in April to give 12 acres near the Pownal Road fields to Seacoast United Maine for two outdoor soccer fields and an indoor arena. In exchange for the $300,000 parcel, the town would get some public use of the complex.

At the same time, the council decided to spend $2.3 million from surplus for 37 acres on Hunter Road, where a group of residents and business owners led by David Latulippe, a real estate developer and the economic development corporation’s board president, is working on Freeport Fields and Trails.

The Seacoast agreement requires the town to “fully cooperate” with the club in seeking any local, state or federal permits for the $4 million soccer complex, including having town department heads and consultants attend meetings on the club’s behalf.

In November, the Planning Board recommended that the council reject zoning changes needed to build the soccer complex in a rural residential district, where the facility would draw more than 100 cars per hour during peak use.

In recent weeks, Seacoast has started looking at other sites in Freeport and elsewhere for the soccer complex, though the club remains primarily interested in the property off Pownal Road, said spokesman Mike Healy.

Healy said the club’s recent decision to buy the Howard SportsDome in Topsham, which Seacoast has leased for more than a decade, has no bearing on its plan to develop a soccer complex in Freeport or elsewhere.

Cassida said Seacoast is eyeing another town-owned parcel in a commercial area of Freeport. He wouldn’t say where the land is because the potential site for a soccer complex includes private property.

The council has scheduled a workshop with Seacoast representatives for Jan. 17 to discuss their future plans.

“The council saw an upside to Seacoast locating in town,” Cassida said. “Like every other developer, there are hurdles Seacoast must jump through.”

 

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

[email protected]