Casco voters accept business offer at special town meeting

SOMETIME THIS SUMMER there will be a welcome mat on the steps of the former TD bank building. During Casco Special Town Meeting on Thursday, residents backed a multiyear lease of the town property to a new business. (De Busk Photo)

SOMETIME THIS SUMMER there will be a welcome mat on the steps of the former TD bank building. During Casco Special Town Meeting last Thursday, residents backed a multi-year lease of the town property to a new business. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Welcome to the Village. Watch your water usage.

When it was all said and done, the majority of the Casco voters in attendance at Special Town Meeting decided to give a new business the opportunity to move into the bank building — amid concerns that the structure had been considered as a possible site for town hall.

Residents at Thursday’s meeting also learned that the town would soon have to budget for a new septic drain system. After all, the almost 40-year-old leach field is shared by the Casco Community Center, the Casco Public Library, and the small building adjacent to the library.

Many of those present at the public meeting wanted the basic details about the business owners interested in renting the town-owned edifice dubbed by locals as “the bank building.”

The couple stepping into the picture with a detailed business proposal lives in Otisfield, according to Town Manager Dave Morton. For the past 20 years, Dave and Robyn Kimball have operated Homestead Hairstyling in South Portland.

When their business relocates to Casco, it will get a new name — All About Raven Hair Salon. In addition to the beauty salon, a portion of the space will be dedicated to a boutique, offering specialized furniture and collectables for sale. The business proposal includes between $50,000 and $70,000 in renovations to bring the building up to code and to make it more energy-efficient, Morton said.

Some people wanted to know why a special town meeting was being held less than two months before the regular town meeting.

Earlier this month, the Casco Board of Selectmen decided to hold a Special Town Meeting on Thursday because waiting would not provide enough time for the business owners to make improvements and open the doors this summer.

Legally, a town meeting was necessary. A vote of the residents, or legislative body of Casco, is required in order for town property to be leased for more than one year. The Kimballs have asked for a 10-year lease.

For resident Sharlene Spaulding, entering into a multiyear lease was a red-flag concern.

“That would tie up that building for 10 years,” Spaulding said.

“Last May or June, we were in this room and we came to a consensus. We wanted to have a ballot vote in November,” she said.

Among the options for a future town hall was the bank building in the Village, she said.

The decisions made by the selectmen nixed both a public hearing on the matter and the bank building option appearing before voters as a referendum, she said.

“That was disappointing because we lost the (opportunity for a) ballot election,” she said.

“Now, I find out we are never going to have the option. We are never going to see different plans, because you guys made a plan of your own,” she said.

Another audience member liked the town hall options still left — if the bank building was leased out.

“We have a building that would bring taxes into our town and we would still have two options: renovate or build new,” she said.

The bank building will require a lot of renovations, she said.

“I think that welcoming a new business in our town and still making the town hall something we can be proud of — that is what we should all consider,” she said.

Lynne Potter spoke along those same lines, saying the selectmen had made a wise decision and not denied the residents of options for a new town hall.

She said the distance is not that great between the Village site, which was being discussed and the Meadow Road property where the town office currently is. Likewise, the cost estimates for remodeling to either existing building were “fairly similar,” Potter said.

She spoke in favor of the warrant article to allow the selectmen to move forward with a multiyear lease agreement.

“I applaud a new business that will create jobs, increase taxes, and will bring traffic in the Village, help the businesses that are here and will bring new businesses in, which we all recognize as a plus,” Potter said.

Resident Eileen Tidd testified, saying she shared Spaulding’s concerns about “the fact the bank was taken off the board for people to decide.”

She recapped recent events.

“As early as three weeks ago, (Chairman) Grant Plummer and another member of the board were getting the costs for the bank building and two other sites,” she said.

The public was informed those estimates were generally within the same price range, she said. Chairman Plummer had put time and effort into putting together cost estimates, she said.

“We never saw the costs,” Tidd said.

“We are getting robbed of the chance to vote on it, which was the sentiment of this meeting last May,” she said.

“The decision was made by the selectmen. It was taken away from us,” she said.

“I am not saying it isn’t a viable business. I am not anti-business. I am anti- the decision being taken away from the people,” Tidd said.

Plummer then took the floor, saying “This has been interesting process (that has been) going on for some time.”

“This business feels like a long-term decision,” he said, citing some of the attributes of leasing the town-owned building to a private enterprise.

“I’ve been sitting at this office for three years and I feel like I am taking a comprehensive look at the town. How do we want it to look in 10 years? In 20 years?”

He recommended that the residents ask themselves those questions when investing in the future town office.

“I have always thought that it is important for the towns’ people, the voters, to make a decision,” he said, agreeing with the right to assemble and vote.

He backed the board’s vote to accept the business proposal and lease the bank building.

“I felt like it wasn’t a just a five-person vote,” he said.

Shortly after Plummer spoke, and twenty minutes after discussion began, a vote was called on the warrant item.

The vote was in favor of renting the space with some residents opposing.

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