Garden project to lease surplus town land

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Already, there’s demand on Bridgton’s surplus lands — and it’s a beauty. A bountiful garden full of beauty, that is.

The Frederika and Wardner Gilroy Charitable Foundation has received permission from Bridgton Selectmen to embark on a major expansion of their Community Gardens Project, by leasing a small vacant parcel of town-owned land to grow and distribute organic produce. The land is located on Park Street, between the parking lot of the U.S. Post Office and a paved parking area owned by the adjacent Nulty Street redemption business.

The request came the same night that selectmen agreed to seek proposals from Realtors to become the exclusive listing agent representing the town for the sale of up to a dozen tax-acquired properties that were foreclosed on in February.

The Park Street land is part of the town’s list of surplus lands, for which selectmen are currently considering a formal policy outlining how those lands should be disposed of. Selectmen agreed the potential benefits to the community from the garden project warranted taking it off the list of marketable properties and issuing a two-year renewable lease on the land to the Gilroy Trust instead.

Glen Niemy, Gilroy Trustee, said the trust wants to expand its current program of raised-bed gardening at the Bridgton Community Center by using local high school students to grow the food for distribution to the local food pantry.

“We will give them the training, skills and tools they will need to effectively run the operation,” he wrote in a July 10 letter to the board. Eventually, the trust wants to encourage residents to become actively involved as well.

“The goal is not just to distribute food, but to teach local residents the multiple benefits of eating healthy food. We hope to be able to encourage people to feed themselves and develop healthy habits that will serve them and their children a lifetime,” Niemy’s letter states.

At the meeting, he also noted the garden project will “make that part of town a little nicer looking.” Trustees Avery Dandreta and Jamel Torres will spearhead the project, and use an electric pump to pump water from the adjacent Corn Shop Brook for watering the plants.

That last part sparked some concerns about noise among board members. “That’s a quiet neighborhood over there,” said Chairman Doug Taft.

Niemy assured the board “you won’t even hear” the electric pump in operation, and there’s plenty of flow from the brook to accommodate their needs.

The garden planting will begin next year.

In agreeing to try to sell tax-acquired properties using a real estate broker, Selectmen were acting on the recommendation of the Community Development Committee, whose members reasoned that such active marketing might well bring a higher selling price to the town than the traditional method of selling to the lowest bidder.

“The CDC felt brokers have a wider market, and even though they’d be making a commission, you’d make more (from the sale) in the long run,” said Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz. An advertisement placed by the town seeks interested real estate agencies that belong to the Maine Association of Realtors to submit a proposal stating what commission they would charge, as well as their plans for marketing the properties.

Selectmen agreed there was potential benefit in having the parcels included in the state’s Multiple Listing Service, seen by all licensed brokers. The successful broker would enter into a three-month contract with an option to extend the terms, and must inform the town of their interest by Aug. 7 at 10 a.m.

Other surplus lands

Meanwhile, the board asked Berkowitz to compile a complete list of all other surplus lands, with a map showing their locations, in preparation for making decisions on how the sales should be handled. June Town Meeting voters gave the board the authority to decide on surplus land sales using any one of three methods — a sale by sealed bid, a live auction or real estate agent listing and sale. Decisions would be made depending on the land, its value, and its potential to be used by the town for infrastructure or building purposes. In some cases, a formal appraisal might be warranted.

Selectman Paul Hoyt said all department heads should be shown the complete list so their perspectives could be taken into account.

“The town should not be in the real estate business,” said Selectman Bob McHatton. “We should see anything we can sell, and get it back on the tax rolls.”

Among the surplus lands are the following: land behind the West Bridgton Fire Station; a lot behind the vacant Saunder’s Mill; land behind Bridgton Hospital; parcels on Cedar Drive; property on Town Farm Road by Foster Pond; a parcel behind the Squeaky Clean Laundromat (currently leased to the business for a septic field); and what is described as a “spaghetti-string” lot off Wildwood Road.

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