China selectmen’s Dec. 7 split decision to ask voters to approve selling the former subdivision on the east side of Lakeview Drive (see The Town Line, Dec. 10) generated renewed and wide-ranging discussion at their Dec. 21 meeting.
The Dec. 21 meeting also saw what was probably a first-ever occurrence: board members considered not appointing someone who volunteered for a town committee. They hesitated not because of any objection to the volunteer, but for fear of overloading the committee.
The Lakeview Drive land, once part of Candlewood Camps, has been town-owned and unused for several years. On Dec. 7, board Chairman Ronald Breton and members Blane Casey and Wayne Chadwick voted to put selling it on the 2021 town meeting warrant. Board members Irene Belanger and Janet Preston were opposed.
Preston put the issue on the Dec. 7 agenda, with a proposal to develop a non-motorized trail system. She brought it up again Dec. 21, seconded during the public comment period by resident Lindsey Harwath and others.
Town records say the lot is 45.3 acres and is valued at $64,600. Town Manager Becky Hapgood believes the town-owned land is just over 39 acres; almost six acres still belong with the land on the west side of Lakeview Drive.
Reasons for selling the land include adding its value to the tax rolls (as town-owned property, it pays no taxes) and eliminating any need for town maintenance or any possibility of town liability.
Preston presented figures from town records showing that as a single lot in private ownership, the land would bring each taxpayer about 30 cents a year in tax revenue. If the land were subdivided, and if the lots were comparable to those on nearby Tarybelu Lane, each China taxpayer would gain between $12 and $13 annually from private ownership.
She and Harwath pointed out that the previous owners gave the land to China because they could not sell the subdivision lots they had mapped out.
There was consensus that the prevalence of wetlands made it hard to site a road and house lots with space for wells and septic systems. The wetlands might be an attraction for a nonprofit organization or wildlife enthusiasts, resident Gina Hoang suggested.
Harwath has a poll on the town’s Facebook page asking about the selectmen’s decision. She said so far most who reply oppose selling the land, and said she found it “disheartening” that selectmen acted without consulting townspeople or other committees.
Selectman Chadwick preferred to get residents’ opinion through a vote at town meeting rather than a Facebook poll, though he and Preston agreed neither result would represent a numerical majority.
Selectman Casey believes the town is short of volunteers to maintain its existing recreational areas, Thurston Park in northeastern China and the town forest behind China Primary School. Harwath said China’s comprehensive plan has consistently called for more recreational space, and plan-related polls show a high level of support for the recommendation.
That comment led to a short review of ways the comprehensive plan is implemented, with resident Jamie Pitney remembering the now-inactive Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee. A revised plan currently awaits voter approval.
Preston and Harwath intend to continue working on plans and public information to support keeping the land for recreation. At this point selectmen have not changed their decision to ask town meeting voters to authorize a sale.
The briefly controversial appointment of James “J. J.” Wentworth as the 10th member of the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee was approved on a 4-1 vote. Casey, who voted no, emphasized that he has absolutely no problem with Wentworth; he was supporting the concern of committee Chairman Tom Michaud that 10 members are too many.
Selectmen and others agreed an oversized committee could become ineffective, and an even number can create difficulties when there is disagreement. However, Breton said, the TIF Committee has no policy limiting members.
Hapgood said on principle no volunteer should be discouraged, since there are seldom enough of them; and added that Wentworth, from southeastern China, would add geographic diversity. She further pointed out that it is unusual to have all members of a committee present at a meeting.
The selectmen’s solution was to appoint Wentworth and to recommend that committee members quickly prepare an appropriate policy covering membership and other issues. If the policy specifies no more than nine members, whoever resigns next will not be replaced, Michaud said.
Selectmen appointed Scott Rollins to the vacant District 4 Planning Board seat without debate.
In other business Dec. 21:
- Selectmen unanimously authorized continuing the single-sheet newsletters from the town office twice a month for the next six months, at an estimated cost of $5,100 to be taken from the $55,000 contingency fund town meeting voters approved. Various alternatives were considered; board members concluded none would reach as many residents as the mailings do.
- Selectmen postponed approval of the Request for Proposals for expanded broadband service, presented by the Broadband Committee, because not all board members had received a copy. The RFP will be on the agenda for a special Dec. 28 selectmen’s meeting. Broadband Committee members hope for approval that evening so they can publicize the RFP Dec. 29.
The Dec. 28 special meeting, to begin at 6:30 p.m. by Zoom, had already been scheduled to give board members more time to discuss Hapgood’s proposed updates to the town personnel policy.
The China selectmen’s January schedule includes a regular meeting Monday evening, Jan. 4; a special meeting Monday evening, Jan. 11; and a regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19 (postponed from the usual Monday because Jan. 18 is the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday and the town office will be closed).
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