North Yarmouth is reassessing what to do with the former Memorial School following Tuesday’s overwhelming voter rejection of a redevelopment proposal for the property.

The board of selectmen had backed a proposal from local construction company A.H. Grover to renovate part of the school building, renovate a baseball field and build a new athletic field on the school campus, and rebuild Wescustogo Hall, which burned in 2013. In exchange, the town would have sold half the 20-acre school property to Grover, who planned to build a 32-unit housing development there. Voters defeated it by an almost 3-1 margin, 968-360.

Selectmen argued the proposal was the best way to redevelop the school, but opponents, coalescing around the group North Yarmouth Can Do Better, argued that the development would break up valuable town property and did not include a broader development plan for North Yarmouth’s town center. The divisive issue has consumed town politics and was a focal point of a recent election for board of selectmen.

Rob Wood, who helped organize the opposition, said he was amazed at Tuesday’s results.

“I thought it was going to be close, but it was a resounding no,” Wood said.

Opponents now hope the town will work on a long-term plan for the property. That includes possibly using the property for a future town office or fire station instead of private development, Wood said.

“The developer did a good job, it is just that he proposed something we think the town can do better than,” he said.

Wood hopes to bring the parties together on a new proposal but admits it may not be easy in the polarized political climate.

“No one wants to keep having referendum votes, it is divisive, it takes time,” he said.

But Alex Carr, chairman of the board of selectmen, said Tuesday’s outcome was disappointing and frustrating.

“As a citizen, I am extremely disappointed we will not see a community or recreational center in the foreseeable future. As a taxpayer, I am disturbed by the lack of interest in keeping municipal costs in check,” Carr said.

“As a board member, I have been thoroughly frustrated in the amount of energy the board, committees and town staff have expended on this issue. We have accomplished little in two years on more important issues before the town and personal agendas regarding this issue have corrupted overall town business,” Carr said. Discussion about the property’s future will wait until new selectmen are sworn in, he said.

Carr, who was elected to a three-year seat on the board in 2014, said he intends to stay on the board but will step down as chairman and invest less time in town business.

Two new selectmen, Paul Napolitano and Anne Graham were elected Tuesday, and a tie race for a third seat between Peter Lacy and incumbent Selectman James Moulton will be decided in a runoff in August, according to the town clerk’s office. Lacy on Wednesday said he intended to stay in the race.

In light of the development proposal’s rejection, “I think it is more important than ever that we have individuals on the select board who are ready to roll up their sleeves and are willing to sit down with a range of people to try and collaborate to move this town forward,” Lacy said.

Moulton did not immediately return a call Tuesday.

Wescustogo Hall may be rebuilt before the town settles on a redevelopment plan for the Memorial School.

The Wescustogo Grange Hall Association transferred the hall to the town in the late 1990s with an agreement that if anything happens to it, the town would rebuild at the same spot on Walnut Hill Road. The building, a community gathering place for more than 50 years, was destroyed in a 2013 fire. In the aftermath, the grange hall association was reincorporated to make sure the town fulfilled its obligation, said association chairman Lincoln Merrill.

The association was willing to include Wescustogo Hall in the larger development proposal, but now wants the town to just rebuild it, Merrill said.

“Our position is, the town has an obligation to rebuild, we are not going to compromise anymore,” Merrill said.

The A.H. Grover proposal intended to use more than $620,000 in insurance money collected after the hall burned, but Merrill said Wednesday it had been a mistake for the association to get involved in the development plans.

“In retrospect, it was a mistake for us to tell the town we would be willing to discuss alternatives,” to simply rebuilding the hall, Merrill said.

“We have to be out of this, because the problem is there is a pot of money there to rebuild the hall and everyone wants to use it for whatever schemes they want,” he added.

 

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