CHINA News – TIF committee eyeing two major projects for consideration

by Mary Grow

Members of China’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee are discussing two major projects on China Lake, one near China Village and the other involving a good part of South China Village.  They are also debating whether to set aside part of the TIF income for a revolving loan fund for small businesses in town.

The project that committee members call the causeway project, referring to the boat landing at the head of China Lake and nearby areas, is more advanced.  At the committee’s Aug. 15 meeting, Mark McCluskey, of A. E. Hodsdon Engineers, presented detailed plans for additional parking on the north side of Causeway Street and fishing platforms extending over the water west of the bridge.  His preliminary cost estimate for the work is $517,500.

The South China project is the brainchild of committee member Dale Worster, and so far is only a concept, not approved for serious committee review and lacking detailed planning or cost estimates.  It involves improving the current South China boat landing for lake access and buying most of the properties in the village east of Old Windsor Road and creating a village center running uphill from the former Farrington’s store to the south end of Lakeview Drive, with fancy stores, eateries and other attractions.

Worster would also like to see China partner with a development company to build a retirement community either on the east side of Lakeview Drive or south of Route 3 close to the Hannaford supermarket.

At the Aug. 15 meeting there was preliminary talk of time frames needed to get the causeway project on the Nov. 8 ballot for town voters’ action.   Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux suggested inviting local residents to the committee’s first September meeting to give them information on the plans.

Since the South China project is still in an early stage, there was no discussion of involving South China residents.  Committee member Frank Soares, who also chairs the planning board, predicted many would object.

Worster responded, “Some people might just have to learn to live with progress.” The causeway project requires at least two preliminary steps, amending China’s land use ordinance and buying a piece of land opposite the boat landing.

Codes Officer Paul Mitnik explained a simple ordinance amendment that would exempt “functionally water-dependent uses” from setback requirements from the lake.  State law allows such provisions, he said.  Local ordinance amendments require voter approval.

The land committee members want to recommend buying is owned by Susan Bailey and is currently used as unofficial parking for the boat landing.  L’Heureux said Bailey is willing to sell the town that lot, which is mostly wetland, plus another lot across Lakeview Drive.

Committee members considered Bailey’s asking price too high and agreed they do not favor buying the other lot at any price.  L’Heureux suggested it might provide a new site for the China Village volunteer fire department, whose members would like more room for a larger building; committee members did not want to combine two separate projects.

In one of two substantive votes Aug. 15, committee members unanimously asked L’Heureux to ask Bailey whether she would sell only the lake lot and if so for what price.  New committee member Tom Michaud, whose wife Marie heads China’s LakeSmart program, and China Lake Association President Scott Pierz urged adding measures to protect China Lake water quality.  McCluskey said his plan includes a swale to absorb run-off from part of the proposed parking area.  Committee member and Selectman Joann Austin recommended additional measures, like pervious paving that would absorb water; McCluskey is willing to consider such steps.

Another suggestion discussed inconclusively was to replace the bridge over the China Lake inlet with a box culvert like the one under Routes 202 and 9 a short distance north.  L’Heureux and Robert MacFarland, chairman of the board of selectmen, said the bridge is deteriorating.

In their second substantive vote, committee members unanimously asked L’Heureux to get cost estimates from the contractor who installed the box culvert, so they will have an idea of additional expenditures for bridge replacement (which do not need to come from TIF funds, MacFarland said) and to seek a cost estimate for additional stormwater run-off controls.

The proposed revolving loan fund, as L’Heureux explained it, would be used to provide funding, in small amounts at low interest rates, to supplement bank loans to help local businesses start or expand.  Committee members are undecided whether they should prepare a detailed plan before they ask voter approval, or whether the concept should go on a Nov. 8 ballot with details, like interest rates and maximum amounts per business, to be worked out if voters approve.

The question of lake access was also on the Aug. 15 committee agenda, separate from the China Village and South China projects, but committee Chairman Amber McAllister said she didn’t have the energy to deal with it.

The next TIF Committee meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, Aug. 29, in the town office.


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