FREEPORT – Seacoast United Maine is seeking a new zoning change to create a recreation district that would allow the soccer club to build an indoor-outdoor field complex on town-owned land near Hedgehog Mountain.

The change, requested from the Town Council, would create a new type of district and circumvent existing zoning that prohibits commercial development in rural residential districts, which make up about 70 percent of the town.

The club’s request got a frigid reception Thursday evening at a meeting of the Save Our Neighborhoods Coalition at the public library that drew about 70 people from all over town. Several raised the possibility of gathering signatures for a referendum to block the council from allowing commercial development in residential districts.

“If the council does this, they open up the whole town to this kind of zoning change,” said Kathy Lowell of Flying Point Road. “This should be a referendum issue. If due process takes its course, the right thing will happen.”

The soccer club requested the zoning change on Thursday. On Tuesday, the council will consider scheduling a public hearing on the requested zoning change on Feb. 28. Coalition members made plans to rally residents to speak against the request.

The recreation district would encompass existing athletic fields on Hunter and Pownal roads, as well as land in between that the council plans to give to the soccer club, according to a letter from Mike Healy, a Freeport resident and retired lawyer affiliated with Verrill Dana in Portland.

Freeport currently has no recreation district and no language in its zoning regulations to allow one.

The council decided last April to give the club 12 acres of town-owned land off Pownal Road to develop two outdoor artificial-turf fields and an indoor soccer arena. In exchange, the town would get some public use of the fields.

In November, the Planning Board issued a recommendation to the council opposing amendments to existing zoning language or designing an overlay district specifically to allow Seacoast’s project.

Coalition members met Thursday with a land-use lawyer, who “couldn’t believe that a town entered into this agreement” with Seacoast, said Lucy Lloyd, a coalition leader. The coalition began collecting donations Thursday night to pay the lawyer’s $5,000 retainer.

Coalition members noted that the council’s land deal with Seacoast requires town officials to help the soccer club get needed zoning and environmental permits. The agreement states that Seacoast can back out of the deal if the club doesn’t get needed permits and zoning changes within 12 months, which would be April 13 of this year, but it’s unclear how the town is bound by the contract beyond that date.

They also noted that the town’s lawyer, Geoffrey Hole of Bernstein Shur in Portland, has conferred with Seacoast representatives, but coalition members were told that they could not speak with Hole on the issue.

Planning Board Chairwoman Wendy Caisse attended the coalition meeting and urged residents to let the public review process take its course. She noted that if the council decided to consider Seacoast’s request after the Feb. 28 public hearing, the council would seek a recommendation from the Planning Board before deciding the issue.

Caisse also said the business community is getting frustrated with the controversy surrounding the Seacoast proposal and suggested that the soccer club should find a commercial area for its project.

“It’s never a good idea to have zoning come from projects,” Caisse said.

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

[email protected]

 


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