Land of opportunity: After sale closing, big plans begin for Gorham acreage

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Gorham Zoning Administrator David Galbraith says the 258-acre ecomaine site on Route 25 in Gorham is a "great piece of property." Ecomaine directors have agreed to sell the site to the Shaw Brothers Family Foundation for $1.75 million.

Though no closing date has been set yet for $1.75 million sale of the 258-acre tract in Gorham that ecomaine has agreed to sell to Shaw Brothers Family Foundation, plans for the site include a hefty investment  in public recreation.

Additionally, some of the tract’s frontage would be available to generate tax revenue for the town – something that had not happened under the ownership of the nonprofit ecomaine, a regional waste and recycling company owned by 20 municipalities, including Gorham.

The land tract, commonly known in Gorham as the Ross Grant, at the eastern gateway to the town, is off lower Main Street (Route 25), a busy commuter arterial.

“It’s a great piece of property,” David Galbraith, Gorham’s zoning administrator, said Tuesday at the site.

Galbraith is the administrator who coordinates and facilitates planning, zoning and economic development for the town.

The ecomaine site is zoned industrial and, depending on what proposals would be presented to Gorham’s Planning Department, could require re-zoning or changing some language in the town’s ordinances, according to Galbraith.

Plans of the nonprofit foundation, established by Jon and Danny Shaw, include restoring 100 acres of the tract to farmland,  preserving open space with trails, and constructing a mile-long public access road through the forested site to the Presumpscot River.

Jon and Danny Shaw own Shaw Brothers Construction, headquartered in Gorham,

Jon Shaw said Wednesday they anticipate spending what he only described as “a substantial amount” on the road and trails in the next 20 years.The foundation cemented a sales agreement and this week contacted a lawyer to conduct a title search on the property.

“I wish we could close it this week,” Jon Shaw said.

But, Lisa Wolff, ecomaine communications manager, said a projected closing would be 30 to 90 days away.

Wolff said the ecomaine board of directors unanimously voted in favor of the Shaw Brothers foundation’s proposal. The vote came during a special meeting of the ecomaine board on March 24.

“Our board of directors has long been considering the best use of our 258-acre Gorham property,” Kevin Roche, ecomaine chief executive officer, said in a released statement. “We are very much aligned with the vision that Jon and Danny Shaw have for the property, and look forward to supporting the construction of recreation trails and public access to the Presumpscot River.”

While ecomaine listed the property for sale at $1.9 million, the foundation initially offered $1.6 million, which it claimed is the appraised value. The offer was increased by $150,000 to snag a sales agreement. Wolff said the property was purchased for $3.5 million in 1989 by the predecessor to ecomaine, Regional Waste Services. It had intended to use the property for what was described as a stump dump. However, the project did not proceed.

“The overall (foundation) transaction is valued at $1.75 million,” ecomaine said on March 25 in a release of some details of its agreement with the Shaw Brothers foundation. “However, ecomaine will pay $100,000 back to Shaw Brothers Family Foundation over five years toward the construction of public recreation trails and roads.”

Under the agreement, ecomaine would provide recycled glass to be used in building the road and trails, which would be available for recreation including walking and cross-country skiing.

“We would love to have our input” about trail design,” Rob Lavoie, chairman of Gorham Conservation Commission, said this week.

In addition to providing public access, the project would preserve some of Gorham’s agricultural heritage, and those plans have generated a positive reaction.

The ecomaine land once was part of the large Grondin Dairy, owned by the late Robert J. Grondin Sr. His grandson, Phil Grondin Jr,. of R.J. Grondin & Sons, a construction company in Gorham, applauded the foundation’s plans for the site.

“I think it will be a real jewel for the town for many years,” Grondin said Friday. “I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

Sebago Brewing Co. has previously said it has outgrown its headquarters in the Gorham Industrial Park and Gorham officials are hoping to keep the company in town. Although land would not be sold, the potential exists for the foundation to lease land to Sebago Brewing to build its new facility.

“I hope they (Sebago Brewing) are part of this whole deal,” Galbraith said at the ecomaine tract Tuesday.

In addition, Jon Shaw said some land abutting Main Street could provide a facility for local farmers to sell their produce.

Gorham Zoning Administrator David Galbraith says the 258-acre ecomaine site on Route 25 in Gorham is a "great piece of property." Ecomaine directors have agreed to sell the site to the Shaw Brothers Family Foundation for $1.75 million.
Gorham Zoning Administrator David Galbraith says the 258-acre ecomaine site on Route 25 in Gorham is a “great piece of property.” Ecomaine directors have agreed to sell the site to the Shaw Brothers Family Foundation for $1.75 million.

Proposals for the site would require a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, a process, Jon Shaw said, that could take up to 10 months.

For centuries, the ecomaine tract had agricultural roots, but is now largely covered with pine trees. Bill Gora, a Gorham resident, recalled this week he was a member of the Boy Scouts that held a jamboree on what was an open field there in 1960.  Gorham Town Councilor Ronald Shepard was also one of the Scouts who camped  there.

“We planted those trees,” Shepard recalled.

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