by Mary Grow
China’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee made its first recommendation to selectmen at the committee’s Aug. 29 meeting.
The committee asked selectmen to present to town voters on Nov. 8 Four Seasons Club President Frank Soares’ request for up to $50,000 for specified improvements on the club’s trails in town. The vote was unanimous with Soares abstaining.
The trails are usually called snowmobile and ATV trails, but Soares emphasized that they are intended for walkers, skiers, horseback riders and others – though not for high-speed travelers or the four-wheel-drive trucks that have done damage in some areas. One reason to make the improved sections up to 35 feet wide is to make room for ATV riders and horse riders to meet safely, he said.
Better trails will also improve access for emergency vehicles, he pointed out.
The proposed work includes bridging a wet area and the Sheepscot River. These two projects will complete connections through the town, allowing people to follow a trail system from Wiscasset and the rest of the coast to Newport and thence throughout northern and western Maine, Soares said. He expects some through-riders will patronize China’s restaurants.
Asked if there were enough local volunteers for routine trail maintenance, Soares said no. Four Seasons Club membership is high, he said, but only a small number of “dedicated” people work on the trails.
Judy Stone of the Thurston Park Committee said her group, too, might seek TIF funding to help with access to the park and its trails.
TIF money is to be used for economic and community development. China’s TIF plan includes development of recreational facilities, like trails.
Also discussed at the Aug. 29 meeting were the committee’s plans for improved fishing and boating access at the head of China Lake and the much less specific idea for development in South China Village, including the boat landing there.
One piece of the head of lake project is purchase of land owned by Susan Bailey and used informally for boat trailer parking. Bailey originally offered to sell the town two pieces of land she owns; Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said she is now willing to sell only the small, mostly-wetland lot the committee is interested in.
However, her asking price is well over the assessed value, and committee members considered it unreasonable. They authorized L’Heureux to negotiate with Bailey for a significantly lower price.
At the committee’s previous meeting, member Dale Worster proposed a sweeping redesign of South China Village, with a new street of fashionable shops – not a shopping mall, he emphasized Aug. 29 – and a better boat landing. His idea has two goals: to make China a place where people stop, instead of just driving through on their way to the coast, and to use the $5 million expected from the TIF over 20 years to make a visible impact.
South China residents Helen Hanson and Christopher Barnes attended the Aug. 29 meeting to ask committee members to leave the village as it is, a quiet residential area – although, Hanson joked, it would be nice if the sidewalk were extended past her house. Committee Chairman Amber McAlister assured Hanson and Barnes the committee has no intention of imposing things – the town does not plan to buy from unwilling sellers or to use eminent domain for TIF projects. She promised to keep Hanson informed of future discussions.
L’Heureux sees the area around Route 3 and the Hannaford supermarket as ripe for development. He recommended committee members be proactive, lest the town be forced to react to unwelcome outside projects.
The Aug. 29 meeting opened with a presentation by Kennebec Valley Council of Governments Executive Director Rosie Vanadestine on revolving loan funds for local businesses. Committee members intend to propose a fund to benefit new or expanding China businesses, but are not sure they can work out details in time for a Nov. 8 ballot question.
The next TIF Committee meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, in the town office.