At a special town meeting this week, Kennebunkport residents raise pink cards to vote in favor of a measure allowing the town to offer $10 million to buy an 85-acre property before a developer can build a subdivision there. Credit: Donna Buttarazzi | York County Coast Star

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — Over 150 residents filled the Village Fire Station for a special town meeting Wednesday, and took just over an hour to approve $10 million dollars that will allow the town to attempt to purchase an 85-acre parcel of land across from the fire station on North Street.

Voters approved the measure by a roughly two-thirds margin. The comments and questions were divided during the meeting, with several residents questioning the high price tag, while others supported the move saying it was a good investment for the town.

Stuart Barwise spoke on behalf of the Board of Selectmen saying the parcel of land is very unique.

“It’s located in proximity to downtown and has immediate access to all of the town infrastructure,” Barwise said. “There’s nothing quite like this parcel in Kennebunkport, nor will there be anytime in the future. This is an opportunity where we have a second bite at the apple, to do something special for the future.”

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The land was purchased in January of 2006 from the Frink family by CDMK, LLC, a Massachusetts-based development group, and approved that same year for a phased subdivision of 80 dwelling units, with a dozen in a multiplex building, and the rest of the units in duplexes.

The development project, named Olde Port Village, has hit numerous snags over the past 12 years, including last year when a mortgage foreclosure on the property loomed and the town asked voters to approve up to $5 million to bid at a foreclosure auction. Foreclosure was avoided by developer Thomas Macone, and the auction never happened. Macone said last fall that he intended to continue with the permitting and site work.

Town Manager Laurie Smith said Wednesday that a number of people came to her last fall and expressed interest in the town owning the property if it ever became available again.

Smith met with Macone a few weeks ago to review the bonding requirements, she said, which need to be met before the final stage of development begins.

Smith said the town did extensive research to determine what would be a fair market price to purchase the 85-acre parcel, knowing that other private developers could be making the same move to purchase it from CDMK.

Barwise said while town officials don’t have a plan for the land, the first order of business will be to engage a consultant to map out potential uses and strategies if the town is able to acquire it.

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Jack Miller, a resident of Cape Porpoise, spoke saying, ” I’m concerned we want to spend $10 million on this piece of land when we don’t know what we want to do with it.”

Miller asked the selectmen if the townspeople would be on the hook for additional development expenses above the $10 million. Barwise said that is not a definite because there is no specific plan for the property and they may enter into a public-private partnership where development costs could be born by a private entity.

Nina Perlmutter, who serves on the Shade Tree Committee, supported the purchase of the land noting that the town owns very little property in relation to private development in the town. She said that any open green space close to the center of town, even if it’s left as green space, would be nice because there’s so much development in that central area.

Resident Dan Beard said the 80 condominium units to be built by CDMK would help to keep the tax rate in town relatively low, while taxes would increase for residents if the town purchased the land, “with little or no return to be seen monetarily in the near future.”

Resident Larry Vennell said, “If someone were to ask me for a donation to buy this land and give the town the options that it would provide for all the opportunities out there, I will gladly do it, and I will prove that by voting for this motion tonight.”

The approval from townspeople Wednesday authorizes Smith to move forward with an offer to CDMK. If successful, the $10 million would be bonded over a 20-year period.

The impact to taxpayers, according to Smith is about 36 cents on the tax rate, which is $36 a year per $100,000 in valuation.

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