YORK, Maine — A number of residents are urging selectmen to put a measure on the ballot next May to buy the 109-acre Davis property in York Village, which is currently slated for a 121-unit condominium development.
Selectmen agreed to discuss the matter at the board’s Jan. 14 meeting. In a related matter, the Mary McIntire Davis Trust, which owns the land, offered the town an easement on the property to a proposed playground and trails associated with the development project. That will also be discussed Jan. 14.
At the board’s recent meeting, residents said the situation has changed since 2014, when voters in a nonbinding measure rejected an offer to buy the property for $5.5 million.
“When it was first voted down, no one in their wildest dreams thought they’d be putting 120 units there. It’s going to be a nightmare,” said York Street resident Fran Koerschner. “I think the citizens of York will have a whole different take on it today.”
She and others quoted a recent letter to the editor in the York Weekly from Davis family representative Thomas Greer, who said the family “very much supports the sale to the town at a competitive price,” but added “time is of the essence.”
The development plan is before the Planning Board, which has held several meetings on what will be the largest residential development in town. It is likely those meetings will continue for several months but the Davises are expecting final approval and start of construction this coming spring. However, Greer in his letter said the family would be amenable to delaying “while the town reviews its options.”
Koerschner said the development, which could take as long as 10 years to be built out, will create traffic problems and other issues as the town invests in a York Village redesign the next few years. “We’re spending all this money on downtown, and yet we’re going to have this mess going on just two blocks away. It makes no sense.”
York Harbor resident Joey Donnelly said he has long supported town purchase of the property. “If this piece of land is developed, we will lose one of the defining measures of beauty entering York Village.” If it remains undeveloped, he said, the town would not be liable for expenses like fire service, snow plowing and the like. He added York students could benefit, learning about sustainable forestry and other nature-based lessons.
Diane Bright of Donica Road submitted a formal written request for selectmen to put discussion of a ballot measure on an upcoming board agenda. In asking for a ballot measure, she said the development “will have a significant impact on everyone. Everyone who drives on York Street. Everyone whose kids go to the elementary school. Everyone who goes through the town to go to the beach. I mean everyone. This is something the people of the town should be able to vote on.”
Donica Road resident Eric Bakke agrees. With the Davis family interested, “have them establish a price, so that we can move forward and have the town vote on it once and for all. The development is not just bigger than Whippoorwill (a subdivision off Route 1), it’s actually more than double the houses on Donica and Raydon roads, and Raydon Road Extension. It just seems like, let the town have a choice, right now.”
There is a bit of bad blood between the Davis family and at least Selectman Robert Palmer, who negotiated with family member Mal Davis in 2014. Greer said in his letter the family had made “both private and public offerings” to sell but “each time they have been rebuffed.”
Palmer said, “I think the opposite is true. The town kept moving toward them. We spent money for an appraisal” in March 2014, that came back at $1.38 million. “The Davises didn’t like it, which is fine. And the next step was, ‘OK, you get your own appraisal’ and they didn’t do that. So in my mind, we didn’t walk away from the table.”
Burns said the 2014 appraisal was based on the fact the Davises did not want to provide the town access onto York Street. If that road frontage is part of any new deal, “that makes a huge difference in the value of that property.” He reminded the board a purchase of the property is not in the capital spending plan, “and it’s almost the same price as the top priority the town has, which is Town Hall.”
Mike Estes seemed willing to consider the neighbors’ request for a ballot measure, but said, “Is their price still $5.5 million or is it $7.5 million? Those are the questions nobody has the answer to.”
Liz Blanchard said, with the town selling so many excess parcels, “if we bought it, do we have any idea what we’d do with it?”
“Let it sit wild,” said Estes.