By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer
ARUNDEL — The dream of creating a focal point of community pride centered on a new town office has taken root with the formal creation of the Arundel Conservation Trust (ACT).
On Saturday, Feb. 25, the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust (KCT) Board of Directors voted unanimously 10-0 to take on the new ACT group as the first subsidiary chapter of its organization.Sam Hull, one of six founding ACT members made the announcement at the Feb. 27 meeting of the Arundel Selectmen, after which both boards convened in executive session for about 45 minutes to work out the details of ACT’s first project.
Selectmen have zeroed in on a 38-acre lot off Limerick Road as their preferred side for a new 8,000- square-foot municipal office. Existing plans for the building pegged its construction at $1.6 million in 2014, while an estimate prepared last year by South Portland engineering firm Sebago Technics called on $610,052 in needed site preparation work.
According to Town Manager Keith Trefethen, Arundel currently has “slightly over $300,000” to work with, using funds set aside annually in a town office reserve account. Given he need to borrow most of the project cost, selectmen have not been keen to ask voters for any more than absolutely necessary for land acquisition.
That’s where ACT stepped in.
Starting with a series of public hearings on the town office move last year, a core group of abut six town residents formed around the idea of forming a local land conservation trust to buy the bulk of the Limerick Road lot, which has potential access to both the Eastern Trail and Kennebunk River, and preserving what is now an open field for posterity.
ACT members say that have they have yet to negotiate directly with the property owners, Steve andMargo Emerson. However, at a public hearing last August, Steve Emerson did say he preferred for the property to b maintained as open space.
For that reason, while he was then offering four acres of the property to the town for $200,000, he was willing, he said, to let the entire 38-acre lot go for $375,000.
Monday’s executive session was called to work out between selectmen and ACT how much land each would buy, and what to offer. Although ACT’s portion of the deal will be a private sale between it and the Emersons, voters will weigh on at the annual town meeting in June on whether to approve the town’s part in the transaction.
“With that meeting coming right up, there really was not time for us to organize as a 501c nonprofit on our own in time. That’s a process that can take months and months,” Sam Hull said in an interview following Monday’s closed meeting.
“Frankly, there was no way we were going to be able to pull it all together before the town would need to go forward [to voters] in June,” ACT spokesman Joan Hull said. “And we don’t have any expertise in running a land trust, nor did we want to reinvent the wheel.
“So, we were looking for a relationship,” Joan Hull said. “Being a chapter of KCT makes sense as it allows us to remain independent — any donations that come to us stays with us for Arundel projects — and it allows us to draw on their more than 40 years of expertise.”
Hull said the partnership also helps to legitimize ACT in the eyes of potential donors.
“For people to give money to a brand spanking new group of people that are just starting up, we figured there’s a lot more confidence in us being part of an organization that’s been around for 44 years, that we’ll always be there to help take care of the land,” Joan Hull said. “It helps give us some credibility, as well as expertise.”
Kennebunkport Conservation Trust was founded in 1973, with one of its first projects being the purchase and maintenance of Cape Island, off Cape Porpoise. KCT co-founder and current executive director Tom Bradbury was not available for comment Tuesday morning. However, KCT’s Director of Education, Leia Lowery, said he recently authored an article, soon to be published, in which he likened ACT’s formation to the founding of KCT, when a host of community members stepped forward to help raise what was then a sizable sum of $100,000 to buy Cape Island.
“He has said that helping ACT is a way of paying that forward,” Lowery said.
Of course, the partnership has to be beneficial to both groups, and the Hulls say the pairing helps KCT achieve its core mission, to preserve land for future generations and to manage it in a way that reflects the natural and cultural heritage of the town.
Kennebunkport and Arundel were one town until 1915, when it split off as North Kennebunkport, not changing its name to Arundel until 1957.
When the idea was hatched to start a local land trust in order to help facilitate purchase of the Limerick Road site, instead of other options then on the table, including three different properties
on Route 1, the Hulls and others tapped Lowery, and Arundel resident, for advice.
Lowery made the connection to KCT, and says a partnership makes sense, given the cultural sensibilities in Arundel, where many people speak of a need to protect the town from encroaching subdivision and development.
“One of the lovely things about our community is that people have grown up here have grown up loving this land and they want to see it preserved for everybody,” Lowery said. “We may have a lot of differences, but we all have one common thread, and that’s the land we live on.”
According to the Hulls and Lowery, ACT will operate for now out of the KCT offices on Gravelly Brook Road in Kennebunkport. A telephone number is expected “in the next couple of days,” Joan Hull said.
ACT will have its own advisory committee, although details such as group size and how members will be appointed remains to be determined.
A press release was slated to go out by week’s end, Joan Hull said.
Meanwhile, Lowery said ACT will get two seats on KCT’s board of directors, “one now, and one at the first opening.”
The Hulls say the first priority for ACT will be to raise funds for purchase of the Limerick Road lot. After that will be more funding drives for maintenance, as well as ways to make the spot a communal area, possibly with a playground, a ballfield or a trail network.
Long term goals include making deals to buy or negotiate easements over adjoining lots for public access to the Eastern Trail and the river. Then, the group will look to other areas in town it can obtain to help preserve Arun- del’s rural character.
Our commitment is that we will be responsible for our own operation, our own fund raising, our own stewardship of the land,” Joan Hull. “This is really the beginning of a very exciting time full of wonderful opportunities these stunning areas that are so important to us all, keeping them around for all of out children and grandchildren.”
“I hope people are getting excited about the potential to create community on land we can all use,” Lowery said. “I’m hoping they get interested and want to join the ACT.”
Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington can be reached at email@example.com.