A group of Freeport residents stands outside the town hall on Wednesday to protest plans for a 500-unit housing development in a largely rural part of town. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

FREEPORT — Despite an engineering firm’s assurances that a proposed 529-unit housing development planned for Freeport would be built responsibly over a period of up to 20 years, many residents are worried the project would “irrevocably change the town.” 

Dozens of Freeport homeowners stood outside the town hall on Wednesday to protest the development ahead of a planning board meeting that night. Board members heard from over 100 residents in the form of written letters and emails and dozens more during the public comment period. 

Their concerns ran the gamut: The potential influx of up to 2,000 people will overwhelm the schools, police, roads, hospitals and other services; The development will mean the loss of the golf course; The planned commercial lots will take away from the already struggling downtown community; It will take away forested acreage in an area trying to preserve its rural heritage. The list goes on. 

“We’re a small fishing town on the coast of Maine,” said Jen York, a Freeport resident who organized the protest. “We don’t want to lose that.” 

The proposed development is on land currently owned by L.L. Bean. Some residents believe the company should take back their offer to sell. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

That small-town feel is why Victoria Winters decided to move back to her hometown after college. 

“It’s not that we don’t want to welcome new families or that we don’t need more affordable housing, but we want it done in more appropriate ways,” she said. “I don’t think adding 25 or 50 homes is a terrible idea and I’d welcome that, but we need to focus on other issues” like revitalizing the downtown, she said. “We need to have something that people are moving here for.” 

The development is situated on roughly 250 acres. Still in the earliest planning stages, the proposal calls for 329 single-family houses, 60 apartment units in five buildings, 140 homes in 70 duplex buildings and eight commercial lots off Desert and Old County Road. The development would be across the street from another large future development, The Beacon Residences, which include 144 units, approved last month.

Kylie Mason, vice president of project delivery for engineering firm Sebago Technics, said previously that the project, which is “nowhere near the design phase” and not attached to an official proposal, would preserve at least 30% of the parcel’s open space and would feature trails and other recreational opportunities with great “public benefit.” 

Mason could not say with certainty if or how many affordable housing units would be in the plan, as it’s still too early, but in order to afford to include them the development would have to maintain the high density or else it wouldn’t be worth it from a cost-benefit standpoint, she said. 

The land is currently owned by L.L. Bean. 

Mason stressed that if approved, the development would not appear overnight, but would be built up over a period of years, possibly even two decades. 

Mason apologized Wednesday for the way the information was initially presented and acknowledged the “anxiety and concern” many residents had expressed. 

She said she is grateful to see the community so engaged and agreed that responsible development should not disrupt infrastructure and services — something many residents said they were worried would happen if Freeport grows too quickly.  

“There’s a very long process that lies ahead,” she said, one that includes many phases and several feasibility and impact studies. 

“This is responsible development,” she said. “Growth is going to happen,” and a larger development with a phased, managed approach can help improve local amenities while creating revenue for the town. 

The application, submitted by KV Enterprises, would require a zoning change to allow for a higher density, as the land is situated between an industrial and a rural-residential district. The suggested “transition zone” would allow for residential housing in the industrial area and increase the number of homes allowed per acre in the rural-residential zone. 

If and when the board does decide on the zoning change, there will still be an additional public process for the development itself, which has yet to be officially brought before any town bodies. 

Residents still aren’t convinced. 

“I want to know where the demand is coming from,” resident Greg Gardner said during the meeting. “Who does this benefit?” 

If it’s approved, he said, he might as well leave Freeport. “I’ll move now,” he said. 

Full occupation of both developments could add nearly 2,600 people to town — that’s almost exactly one-third of Freeport’s existing population of about 7,800, and as one resident pointed out, is like adding a town one and a half times the size of Pownal and putting into one-third of a square mile. 

The development would “irrevocably change the town” resident Erin Clough said, and “sells out all of Freeport’s future to one developer.” 

The town’s comprehensive plan is due to be replaced by 2023 and the people of Freeport should talk about how they want the town to look, “not what Sebago Technics wants it to look like,” she said. 

Planning board member Aaron Canaan disagreed, and said what he heard Wednesday was “a lot of aversion to just plain growth in our community.” 

The sheer scale of the project is alarming, he admitted, but also presents an opportunity to address affordable housing needs in an area that, situated between a highway, railroad and warehouse, could be a good fit for this kind of development. 

“Change is difficult but it’s coming,” he said, but short of putting up walls around Freeport, there’s not much they can do to prevent it, so they might as well use the opportunity to help guide it. 

While the need for affordable and diversified housing is clear, it’s the rezoning of a rural section of town that board chair Sam Kapala said gives him “quite a bit of pause.” 

“The town has a very rural character,” he said, and the rural residential areas are very important to the fabric of Freeport.  

A transitional zone may be appropriate near the industrial area, but there are likely “some opportunities that may be more appropriate for development on a scale more fitting with Freeport as it is today,” he said. 

“Given the overwhelming public opposition,” any proposal “would need substantial revisions to gain my approval,” he added. 

Sebago Technics representatives said they still hope to work with the town to create a well-planned and sensible area that will meet the needs of the future homeowners who will be moving to Freeport. They asked town residents and officials to let them design a neighborhood that won’t do the things they’re afraid of, but need to have public input and do their studies and analyses to get do so. 

The next steps in the process has yet to be determined. 

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