About a dozen China residents attended the selectmen’s May 13 public hearing on two June 11 ballot questions, focusing most of their attention on the first and more expensive one.
The first question asks if voters want to authorize selectmen to spend up to $150,000 for the Hall property across Lakeview Drive from the town office and abutting the Four Seasons Club. The approximately four acres for sale include lake frontage that would provide a beach and boat landing. Funds would come from China’s lake access fund ($125,000) and TIF (Tax Increment Finance) fund ($25,000). The budget committee recommended approval on a 4-2 vote on April 9.
The second question asks if voters want to authorize selectmen to spend up to $25,000 from the town’s Undesignated Fund Balance (surplus) “to contract for the engineering and costing of a consolidated emergency services building and a community building,” based on designs for which voters appropriated up to $5,000 in November 2018. The emergency services building would house the China Village Volunteer Fire Department, China Rescue, a police office and perhaps a Delta ambulance; combining China’s three volunteer fire departments is not part of the plan. Plans for both buildings are on the town website under “News.” The budget committee unanimously recommended voters not approve the appropriation.
With Town Manager Dennis Heath absent, there was a lack of answers to many of the questions raised at the hearing. Selectboard Chairman Robert MacFarland said town officials are waiting for voter approval before making detailed plans, and if voters do approve they won’t necessarily buy the property; they just want to be able to.
Two members of the former Lake Access Committee, which proposed buying the former Candlewood property and was turned down by voters, said China still needs a place for residents who don’t own waterfront property to access the lake.
If voters approve, the current undetailed plan is to develop a beach and a boat landing, with at least one parking area partway up the hill toward Lakeview Drive.
Audience and selectboard members talked about safe separation between swimmers and boaters, or maybe having a carry-in launch area only, or having a landing that would accommodate the overflow from the state landing at the head of the lake outside China Village. The last proposal sparked another inconclusive discussion about the future of the present landing.
People asked how the town benefited from bass tournaments and about the risk of importing the invasive plant milfoil when a lot of out-of-town boats use China Lake.
Location and size of the access road were unknown; MacFarland said it would “probably” be two lanes. The number of parking spaces was not determined.
Two men said the proposed $150,000 would be “a drop in the bucket” compared to the cost of developing the area for public use. Even if state funding were obtained, Wayne Chadwick pointed out that state dollars are still tax money.
At the selectmen’s meeting that followed the hearing, China Planning Board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo said the Land for Maine’s Future program where he is a Ssenior planner would be likely to approve a China application for up to half the appraised value of the property. Also, he said, the Bureau of Public Lands has a program that might contribute development funds for a boat landing.
If the waterfront were developed, people asked whether it could or would be limited to China residents; whether it would be considered public or private; whether there would be lifeguards, people to check residency or other supervisors and whether they would have to be paid. There were no answers.
Selectman Jeffrey LaVerdiere cited public beaches in nearby towns that have been closed due to unwelcome clientele, vandalism and other problems.
Whether the state Department of Environmental Protection would approve the development is unknown – Selectman Irene Belanger said they are “involved.”
“You’re asking the people to make a decision without information,” Bill Van Wickler summarized as the discussion drew to a close.
The much shorter discussion of the second question ignored the community center and focused on the proposed emergency services building. Months ago, the concept was that the China Village Volunteer Fire Department would move into a new building on the town-owned property on the east side of Lakeview Drive opposite the former Candlewood Camps. Its present building would be demolished and China Baptist Church would create a new parking lot on the site, freeing the present church parking lot for boaters’ use.
Now it appears that state officials will not continue to support the boat landing, because of lack of adjacent parking and its location, exposed to debris blown from the entire east basin. Therefore, all three China fire chiefs said at the hearing, no more parking is needed, so the China Village station doesn’t need to move, so there is no reason to waste more money planning for a new building.
China voters will decide both questions by written ballot on June 11. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the former portable classroom behind the town office.