Talks scheduled for Thursday behind closed doors about a huge land tract could forever impact open space and public recreation in Gorham – a town with a rapidly expanding population.
The ecomaine-owned land near Westbrook at Gorham’s eastern gateway is positioned to play a pivotal role in Gorham’s future. The board of directors of the nonprofit regional waste and recycling company was expected to discuss Thursday in executive session the sale of its mostly wooded 258 acres on lower Main Street.
The Shaw Brothers Family Foundation, established by Jon and Danny Shaw, hopes to buy it for a working farm and to allow public recreational activities on the property.
At the same time, Gorham is abustle with multiple publicly and privately financed projects under way, including housing and retail businesses. Next week, the Gorham Police Department begins moving into its newly built station at 270 Main St.
Lt. Christoper Sanborn said Tuesday its a beautiful building and police are packing now.
“We can’t wait to get in,” Sanborn said.
The present Public Safety Building is under renovation and the Fire and Rescue Department is being expanded.
For the ecomaine land, the Shaw Brothers Family Foundation has offered $1.6 million cash, which it says is the appraised value. But as of early this week, ecomaine had not accepted the offer. Jon Shaw said this week the foundation has “drawn a line in the sand” on the amount it’s willing to pay.
Kevin Roche, chief executive officer of ecomaine, said in an email this week he was unsure what the board would do.
Gorham Town Manger David Cole represents the town on the ecomaine board, and Jon Shaw, president of Shaw Brothers Construction Inc., plans to attend Thursday’s meeting.
Gorham Town Councilor Sherrie Benner said this week that the Gorham Town Council last year endorsed backing the Shaws’ concept.
“We all embraced the idea and vision,” Benner said. “It would be a wonderful asset for the town.
The ecomaine property is exempt from taxes. But under the Shaw Brothers Family Foundation plan, some of the frontage of the parcel would be for development that would add tax revenue for the town.
Sebago Brewing, based in the Gorham Industrial Park, has outgrown its headquarters and has been searching for a site to build. Earlier this year, Kai Adams, a Sebago Brewing founder, indicated his company was interested in being part of the Shaws’ plans for the ecomaine site. Adams did not return American Journal phone calls this week for comment.
Jon Shaw said the foundation would not sell any property, but would lease a lot on a long-term basis to Sebago Brewing.
Gorham officials are hoping Sebago Brewing stays in town. Tom Ellsworth, director of Gorham Economic Development Corp., described it as an “important project for us.”
Besides tax money the land tract might generate, the site, known in town as the Ross Grant, would preserve some of Gorham’s historical roots in agriculture and provide trails for hiking, cross-country skiing and other outdoor recreation. The foundation would build a mile-long road through the site to allow public access to the Presumpscot River.
The site would increase recreation opportunities for residents in Gorham, which has been billed as the fastest growing town in Maine.
“We are indeed,” David Galbraith, the town’s zoning administrator, said this week.
According to U.S. Census Bureau information, Gorham had a population of 16,381 in 2010, up from 14,141 in 2000. State figures posted online pegged Gorham’s population in 2012 at 16,656 and projected it would rise to 17,221 next year.
To meet the anticipated demand, a well-known local developer, Jon Smith of Great Falls Construction, is asking the town for a contract zone to build a five-story, building for commercial and residential purposes off Railroad Avenue in Gorham Village.
Galbraith expected the proposal to be discussed in an upcoming Planning Board meeting. Smith was unavailable for comment by the American Journal deadline Wednesday.
Great Falls Construction is building the new West Gorham home for Casco Federal Credit Union, 393 Ossipee Trail. A sign posted on the property indicates the new facility will open this summer. The present credit union is housed next door in the Nicely building.
An Avesta Housing project, Ridgewood II, is under construction on School Street for elderly and disabled. Drew Wing, a developer for Avesta, said the $5.1 million project would likely open in June.
Wing said it’s an affordable housing development with 21, one-bedroom units and three with two bedrooms. Wing said 50 percent of the building’s energy consumption would be produced by roof solar panels.
“Gorham is a wonderful town,” Wing said. “People want to live in wonderful places.”
New businesses in Gorham include the Gorham Growl, a pet supply store at the corner of Main and School streets, and Gorham Hair & Co., a beauty salon that owner Brianna Wormell opened March 8 at 13 New Portland Road, where Mister Bagel is also located.
Businesses opening soon in Gorham Village include the School Street Pub & Grill at 29 School St., which is space previously occupied by Thatcher’s Restaurant. The location is the Spire 29 complex owned by Smith.
On Main Street, Nail Xperts will open soon, according to a posted sign, in space in the building Smith owns at 109 Main St. Galbraith said the nail salon has applied for permits. Nail Xperts will be in the same building that houses Subway and Aroma Joe’s. Great Falls Construction built the project after razing the notorious old gas station.
Topping off a list of projects, Gorham’s Main Street gets a facelift this summer with new pavement and new water mains replacing century-old pipes. According to town figures, the rehab, a Maine Department of Transportation project likely to begin in July, will run $2.2 million.
Benner cited Gorham’s school system as instrumental in attracting people and businesses to town, along with its proximity to Portland and the transportation system.
“It’s the quality of life,” Benner said. “It’s a great place to live, work and play.”