Freedom – December 8, 2008 – A Land Committee appointed by Freedom’s Board of Selectmen is said to be close to recommending the purchase of 55 acres outside the village as a new location for the town’s municipal offices and police and fire departments.
The committee will meet to discuss the purchase this Thursday night, December 11, at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. The meeting is open to the public.
Sources say the Committee is focused on land owned by Libby Priebe at the junction of Route 153 and Ossipee Lake Road. If the Committee recommends the purchase, it will be subject to the approval of town residents at the annual Town Meeting in March.
The Selectmen tasked the Land Committee with finding property where the town’s municipal services can be consolidated. Currently, the selectmen and police work in the Town Office building on Old Portland Road, and the Fire Department operates from a building on Village Road.
At a Selectman’s meeting in September, Board member James Brown said the current town buildings are antiquated, don’t meet required codes and have limited parking. He and Selectman Donna Cupka said the cost of updating the two structures would exceed the cost of buying land and consolidating town functions in a new building.
But a group of local residents has raised questions about the plan, saying the Selectmen are moving toward a land purchase without fully examining all of the alternatives.
In September, town residents Lee Fritz, Pam Fortin, Gail Morris, Janet Meyers and Anne Cunningham met with the Selectmen to express their concerns that moving the municipal offices out of the village would be detrimental to the character of the town.
Asked by the group about the alternatives the Land Committee was considering, Selectman Cupka said the Committee was “down to one piece of property that was in negotiations,” according to the minutes of the meeting. Cupka added that it was [Board Chair Les] “Babb’s hope to bring this parcel to town meeting.”
When the group asked if a professional had been hired to review the feasibility of keeping the offices in their current location, Cupka said the Board was “not looking to expend monies to upgrade the current offices,” adding that the group was “welcome to bring a petition to town meeting to spend monies on professionals.”
Last month, another town resident, Jennifer Molin, formed a group called Freedom Cares to examine how the town can accommodate growth while maintaining its historic buildings and scenic rural character.
She says she also fears moving the town offices out of the village would have an impact on the town’s character that has not been sufficiently discussed by residents, noting that 97% of respondents to the Freedom Master Plan Survey said preserving historic buildings and sites was an important town objective.
Molin says Freedom Cares hopes to generate a town-wide discussion of the alternatives, which she thinks could include more effective use of the town’s two-acre Fire Department site on Village Road.
She says a feasibility study of all options should be conducted before the town is asked to vote on purchasing new land at Town Meeting.