The Damariscotta River Association will buy and preserve an 87.8-acre property in Damariscotta, once part of the Piper Village Subdivision.
“It’s beautiful stream valley,” DRA Executive Director Stephen Hufnagel said. The DRA plans to build trails for public access and use the property to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.
The current owner says the property would be difficult to develop due to the presence of wetlands.
The property includes a dam and impoundment, likely once the location of a mill. Hufnagel said the DRA would research the site’s history.
The nonprofit will also use the acquisition to improve water quality in Castner Creek, a tributary of the Damariscotta River.
“Castner Creek has been an interest of the DRA for the past 10-12 years,” Hufnagel said.
He said the creek has a lot of silt and sediment, which affects the entire river. “Excessive sediment can be harmful to aquatic life,” he said.
The DRA will improve the water quality in the creek by establishing a wide buffer around it where there will be no tree-cutting, and will design trails to prevent erosion.
The property extends nearly to School Street on the east, Main Street on the north, and Heater Road on the west.
On Monday, March 4, the Damariscotta Planning Board approved a change in a lot line that will allow the sale to go forward.
The change splits a 107.8-acre property into two lots. Clippership LLC owns the property and will retain a 19.98-acre lot, which it plans to subdivide, according to David Tucci, director of development at Dirigo Capital Advisors. The plan for the subdivision will be presented to the board later this year.
Tucci presented an amended lot plan to the planning board.
In 2007, the planning board approved a division of the property into Piper Village Subdivision, according to an email from Town Planner Bob Faunce to the planning board.
Clippership LLC has owned the property for about three years, Tucci said.
“We collectively think it’s the best use of the land,” Tucci said of selling a large portion to the DRA.
“We are in discussion with the DRA to cut in some nature and walking preserve trails that the public would have access to,” Tucci said.
Hufnagel said the nonprofit land trust will buy the land for $100,000, about 30 percent below market value. The sale should close by the end of the month.
“I think this could be a really big win for the town,” he said.
On the eastern side of the property, there will be selective cutting and timber harvesting to improve the forest’s health and help wildlife.
Hufnagel said some of the wood could be used for community energy needs.
While the board unanimously approved the change in the lot line, Chair Jonathan Eaton and member Wilder Hunt expressed concern about the growing amount of Damariscotta property owned by tax-exempt entities.
A group of investors once hoped to foster a major business and housing development on the Clippership LLC property and others in the area.
The investors worked with the town of Damariscotta to reform zoning regulations in order to enable the development. The resulting proposals to amend the town’s land use ordinance failed, however, in townwide referendums in 2011 and 2012, and the group sold off the properties.
The board began to review a draft of a new subdivision ordinance written by Faunce.
One section Faunce added that is not in the town’s current ordinance involves provisions for open space subdivisions.
“An open space subdivision allows a developer to significantly reduce the cost of developing lots,” Faunce wrote in an explanation of the section.
In exchange for preserving open space, such as a field, or creating another benefit for the public or the environment, the planning board can reduce lot sizes and road frontage below what is otherwise required by the land use ordinance.
“It is the policy of the town of Damariscotta to encourage the use of open space subdivisions in order to preserve a sense of space, provide for sustainable agriculture and forestry as well as recreational land, preserve other resources identified in the Town of Damariscotta Comprehensive Plan, and harmonize new development with the traditional open, wooded, agricultural, rural and village landscapes of the town,” the draft ordinance states.
Faunce said open space subdivisions make the most sense in rural areas, since land parcels are usually larger.
“The idea is to get better quality development,” Faunce said. “Unless we have something like this, we can’t do something unique.”
He said developers can still choose to do a standard subdivision, but the open space provisions would create an incentive for creative planning and give the planning board more control.
“This is your opportunity to actually be planners,” he said. “You have the ability to talk and negotiate.”
The board’s next meeting will be for an ordinance workshop at 6 p.m., Monday, March 18 at the town office.