As School Administrative District 51 board members continue to plan for a new primary school to ease overcrowding in Cumberland-North Yarmouth schools, Cumberland officials are taking a closer look at the impact of the town’s growth, according to Town Planner Carla Nixon.

Most recent enrollment projections add about 500 more students to SAD 51 within seven years, or by the 2028-2029 school year. Anticipated enrollment for the upcoming year is about 2,100.

The town council and planning board met in a joint session last week to talk about the town’s direction. Updating the town’s comprehensive plan and revisiting the cap on building permits were among the topics discussed.

“The schools are once again at capacity, or over capacity, so we have been putting in portable classrooms. Part of that was due to the pandemic, but part of that is also because of we are running out of space,” Nixon said in an interview. “There was a desire on the part of the council and planning board to look at what can we do to control growth better so it doesn’t impact the schools so much.”

One way to do that, she said, is to update the Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted in 2009 and updated in 2014. The plan lays out the town’s vision “to preserve the community’s rich agricultural heritage; to implement programs and practices to assure environmental sustainability; to make available quality affordable housing for people of all ages and income levels; to expand its non-residential tax base; and to facilitate moderate growth through prudent planning.”

“The underlying question was, do we need to look at updating the comprehensive plan? Is it time for us to look at it again?” Nixon said.

Growth is not impacting one section of town more than any other, she said. The Christmas Creek and Cumberland Crossing by Ocean View subdivisions are being constructed in Cumberland Center and subdivisions are being planned off Orchard Road in West Cumberland and between Route 1 and Interstate-295.

The town has 65 growth permits to allot each year and whether that is the right number also was discussed.

“We have never exceeded that, so it is hard to say we need a reduction,” Nixon said.

Town Council Chairperson Bob Vail Vail said while he is against seeing more growth in town, his major concern is the “population is aging out.” Seniors are often selling their homes to families, which drives the school enrollment numbers up.

“Sales of existing homes are accelerating in Cumberland, and there’s been a lot of home ownership turnover. In fact, since 2010, about 40% of the town’s existing housing changed hands, at a rate of about 144 homes per year,” Greater Portland Council of Governments’ Executive Director Kristina Egan wrote in a May 2019 memo to Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane.

Between 2010 and 2017, Cumberland added 714 residents, two-thirds of whom were under the age of 45, Egan said, citing research by GPCOG data analyst Abe Dailey and former Planning Director Steph Carver. That population increase has continued in recent years. The 2020 census reports there are 8,473 residents in Cumberland, up 1,200 residents from the last census on 2010.

Nixon said there was also some discussion about how the town might be able to spend the impact fees that are charged to new residential development projects. Now, money is put toward future open space and recreation projects, but some wondered at the joint session if some funding could go directly to the schools to offset additional expenses due to increasing enrollment. Nixon said that is not possible due to state law.

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