Casco: Chance to add more open space?

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Members of the Casco Open Space Commission have had their heads in the trees.

In recent months, the Open Space Commission (OSC) decided to have a money-generating timber harvest done on a parcel of undeveloped land in South Casco.

It is estimated that the harvest on town-owned land will net between $12,000 and $15,000. That money will be reinvested in the Open Space’s land acquisition fund.

On Nov. 14, OSC member Keith Morehouse updated the Casco Board of Selectmen on a plan to purchase another 10-plus acres for that particular public parcel.

“It is an opportunity that landowners are willing to sell to the town, 11.5 acres,” Morehouse said. “It is a bargain basement price.”

The total cost is $27,500 for more than 11 acres of raw land, which calculates to about $2,500 per acre.

As it stands, the town owns 40 acres with 400 feet of road frontage on State Park Road, according to Casco Town Manager Dave Morton

What it is being offered for sale “is a back parcel that connects to the 40 acres the town has. The portion we are proposing to acquire doesn’t have road frontage,” Morton said.

There are two separate items 1.) The land purchase, 2.) The allocating of money from timber sales to the land acquisition fund. In order for those objective to be done deals, it will require residents’ approval at the town meeting.

The question at hand was: Should it happen during the special town meeting usually slated for January? Or should the issues be addressed at Casco Town Meeting that takes place every June?

In the course of the discussion, the board decided to hold up on the land sale until the annual town meeting when the local population is bigger and more discussion can take place.

In other words, approval of the land acquisition and earmarking town/land timber sales can wait until June.

Meanwhile, the board did give the go-ahead for the real estate negotiations to begin.

During the meeting, Selectman Calvin Nutting asked about the long-term plan for the land.

“I don’t think there is a plan,” Morehouse said.

Selectman Nutting said, “I would just assume there is a plan if you are willing to spend the town’s money.”

Morehouse said that the property owners “are willing to sacrifice some value of their property to the town, to make a better piece of land for the town. It would certainly add value to land already there.”

Town Manager Morton sought to answer Nutting’s question about a plan for the land.

He said the proposed land purchase would be “for preserving undeveloped land” and “to make sure there are plots of land throughout our town that will not be developed.”

“The town is currently harvesting it, reaping some value from the timber harvest,” Morton said, providing the estimate of $12,000 to $15,000 from the sales of the viable timber.

Selectman Grant Plummer asked about money in the acquisition account, adding it “sounds like a town meeting issue to me.”

Morton answered, “We have $43,000 in land acquisition.”

“I think the issue is would [the selectmen] feel comfortable with special town meeting or would the board rather it go to Town Meeting.

Plummer favored putting the property under contract so the town could have its ducks in row before the town meeting. He clarified whether the town was being asked to pay the closing costs.

Morehouse said yes.

“They were pretty certain with the reduced price, the town would pay the closing costs,” he said.

The motion was for the town manager to work with the property owners to put the property under contract. The vote was 4-1, with Selectman Nutting opposing.

The Open Space Commission has a total of five members, two elected and three appointed residents.

OSC’s goal “is to protect some of Casco’s undeveloped land as one of the primary goals of the Comprehensive Plan for the Town of Casco,” according to the town’s website under the committees section.

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