A popular publicly-owned skating pond on Mount Desert Island could get some much-needed parking if local voters decide to accept donations of two abutting properties.
Chris Pond in Southwest Harbor has been popular among MDI residents who like to go ice-skating, but that popularity has come with a price. There is only room for maybe a half dozen cars at the site, located off Main Street in the downtown village, and things can get crowded quickly, on or off the one-acre frozen pond.
“On a nice day, there can be 40 people out skating in the pond,” said James Geary, chair of the town’s conservation commission.
The pond, which was once used for cutting blocks of ice, was acquired by the town decades ago, Geary said. If voters decide to accept two adjacent properties as donations from Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the town could have more parking and better access to the site, he said.
“The town would own, free and clear, all the property around the pond,” Geary said. “It’s pretty tight in there.”
Access to the pond is currently through an easement over a narrow right-of-way off Main Street that is part of an undeveloped 5-acre parcel on the west side of the pond. The owners have offered to sell that property to the land trust, which would donate to the town after purchase. That would ensure that access would be preserved.
Another property to the immediate north of where a storage shed stands already is owned by the land trust and has road frontage directly on Main Street. If this property also were donated to the town, the town could put in a wider driveway to the pond across it and could add another 10 or 12 parking spaces, Geary said.
If voters approve the town accepting the donation of the properties, there would be little ongoing cost to the town, he said. The town would be eligible to apply for a grant that would cover the cost of putting in a driveway and parking area, and of removing a house where the parking area would be built. Geary did not have an estimate for what those costs might be.
The town also could subdivide each of the added properties and sell off the portions it does not need, he said. Part of the property where the parking would be added could be used as a site for workforce housing, which would generate property tax revenue to the town. The parcel behind the pond also could be subdivided and part of it sold to abutting property owners on Three Rod Road, who also would pay property taxes on the land they acquire.
Together, the two abutting properties now generate roughly $4,600 in property tax revenue for the town each year, he said.
The conservation commission will host a public meeting about the potential project at 6 p.m. Monday. The meeting will be held in person at the town office but also will be streamed on Zoom, according to the town’s website.
Geary said he did not know when all of this might go before voters, though “ideally” it would be at Southwest Harbor’s annual town meeting in June. If voters decide to accept donation of the properties, and if the board of selectmen sign off on applying for the grant, work theoretically could get under way later this year, he said, though he shied away from making predictions.
Geary noted that the conservation commission already helps to oversee a network of volunteers to operate and maintain the town’s Charlotte Rhoades Park & Butterfly Garden, and that it could continue to use volunteers at Chris Pond if the town expands its property there.
“We’ve done that successfully for years at Rhoades Park,” he said.