Attempted land grab fails at Thomaston Town Meeting

Fri, 06/14/2024 - 10:15am

At the Thomaston Town Meeting, Wednesday, June 12, the first article for consideration, Article 3, was whether the Select Board should be able to negotiate a conservation easement for Thomaston Green Park with Georges River Land Trust. This codifies what voters approved last year to be “public open space for recreational use in perpetuity” for the approximately 8-9 acres south of William King Street.

The Planning Board immediately shifted the discussion to affordable housing. It is no secret that the Planning Board has eyed the “Green” for affordable housing. They cited the paucity of available land for affordable housing saying that the “Green” is really the only place for it. This small group of people succeeded, for a time, in changing the narrative because they could not accept the will of the people. So, they bullied their way to hoodwink those in attendance into believing that affordable housing was really the issue.

Note that they didn’t challenge the vote for the north side of the “Green” where utilities are already present, and where last year voters approved a clinic and a Fire/EMS station. They just have issues with the park.

They tried to make the case that the “Green” or Thomaston Green Park as it is officially known, is the “only” place in town where affordable housing could go. There just isn’t any other place in the 11 square miles of Thomaston. Mind you, there are all kinds of derelict buildings along Main Street and within the town proper.

Yet, at the May 13, 2024 Select Board Meeting, the Special Projects Planner, John Fancy, who was in attendance at last night’s town meeting, spoke at length about the affordable housing project being planned on Clark Street. This is the result of the 2022 “land swap” with George Hall, where the Town of Thomaston got 23 acres in exchange for an unwanted portion of the Town Forest that was all rock. The land has been surveyed, utilities are present, and Habitat for Humanity along with Maine Working Homes want to build 15-18 modular homes on one-third to one-half of that 23 acres.

Of course, it still has to go to the Planning Board. Yet, Mr. Fancy, nor any of the Select Board members, or other audience members who were also at that meeting spoke up last night.

The likelihood that the 8-10 acres south of William King Street is viable for a residential development is slim. Half of it slopes down towards the railroad tracks to the St. George River.

Did you know there is a prison buried underneath that ground? When digging to install utilities and other infrastructure that would be needed most likely would reveal debris and toxic waste, which would be most inhospitable for such grand plans. Knox Clinic is finding that out on the north side of the Green where they have 1.5 acres and are trying to site their 10,000 square foot facility.

Another local columnist said, “Check your values” referring to people who would vote for a conservation easement over affordable housing. She asked a number of questions, which could have easily been answered had she attended or watched Select Board Meetings and been following Thomaston’s issues this last year.

Affordable housing is not the issue, as much as the Planning Board and others tried to make voters think it was. The issue is honoring last year’s vote that saw a record turnout of Thomaston’s citizens to vote on the Thomaston Green issue. There was a packed public hearing two weeks before the over 300 people came to last year’s town meeting. Most of them said they wanted a permanent park. As Jon Eaton said last night, affordable housing on the “Green” has gone before the voters multiple times and it has been voted down each time.

Last night’s town meeting was a fraction of the one in 2023. I’m guessing much less than half. (A person was counting people as they entered.)

Just like last year, a member of the Thomaston cadre squelched discussion by “moving the question” to cut off debate.

A Select Board member moved that people be limited to 3 minutes to speak, echoing their policy of only allowing individual public comments for 3 minutes at the beginning and end of their semi- monthly Select Board meetings.

When people say that the town meeting is the purest form of democracy, I take issue with that. The first amendment to our U. S. Constitution in the Bill of Rights says “Congress shall make no law...  abridging the freedom of speech...”

In this case, the Select Board is doing exactly that. The person with his perpetual “moving the question” is doing exactly that. I say that this “creep” in Thomaston abridging freedom of speech is dangerous. When the powers that be don’t want a challenge or disagreement, they slide policy and procedural devices to shut down debate.

The Planning Board tried to change the topic last night, taking advantage of the smaller attendance hoping that their arguments would win the day. Well, that strategy didn’t work. They, along with a few others, voted against Article 3. The overwhelming majority of voters agreed that the Select Board should negotiate a conservation easement for Thomaston Green Park (all the land south of William King Street, including the 100-foot-wide tree-lined esplanade) with Georges River Land Trust.

Next steps include the Thomaston Green Park Ad Hoc Committee presenting its findings and recommendations to the Select Board. That should happen soon. Let’s see whether the Thomaston Select Board will finally listen to a committee’s findings for the “Green” and act on their recommendations.

When and where will the next hijack to the “Green” come from? Will it continue to be “dead space” or will we ever be able to put benches, flowers, and picnic tables up there to make it a park for ALL? My hope is that we will be able to affirm our faith in our elected officials to carry out the will of the majority and listen to those to whom they’ve delegated with the responsibility for the last 10 months of working to provide a community park for everyone who lives in and visits Thomaston. The people have spoken. Let’s honor their voices.

Kathleen Norton lives in Thomaston