CHINA — Voters will decide in November whether the town should buy a 9-acre lakefront property that includes a development known as “The Cabins” to turn it into a park.
The town and Wachusett Properties, of Massachusetts, the owner of the land located at 1270 Lakeview Drive, already have a purchase agreement for $575,000, according to Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux. The road is also known as Route 9 and U.S. Route 202.
The sale is contingent on the approval of a town vote on Nov. 5. Both the town’s Budget Committee and the Board of Selectmen recommend its approval.
The town has more than $120,000 in a lake access reserve account, and the additional money would come from a loan from Bar Harbor Bank and Trust, L’Heureux said.
“It’s going to be a place to attract the community, and all the residents will have lake access,” L’Heureux said, adding that roughly 85 percent of the properties in China have no lake access.
The idea of a residential public park with lake access in China has been on residents’ minds for years. When the town’s current comprehensive plan was adopted in 2008, improving access was even cited as a major priority.
“It’s something people have wanted for years,” said Paul MacDonald, a China selectman and resident for 35 years. “I think it’s a good thing for the town.”
During the last five years, the town has been working on advancing this project, setting up the China Lake Access Feasibility Committee to help find a suitable location, L’Heureux said.
“We’ve been researching properties for well over a year,” said Sheri Wilkens, a member of the committee designated to finding a location for community park. Wilkens said a couple of obvious ones — the boat landing and the causeway near the north end of the lake — were ruled out. She said the Maine Department of Environmental Protection forbids development at the site to protect migratory bird populations.
Other areas didn’t meet the committee’s criteria for a public park.
“We investigated properties that were for sale, and for many of them, getting to the lake was difficult,” Wilkens said. “One of our criteria was that the lake be accessible for all. If it’s tough for the elderly or disabled to use the area, then we rule out a portion of our citizens.”
She said The Cabins site was appealing because of its visibility from the road, an updated septic system, room for developed hiking trails and other activities, as well as ample parking space.
Other favorable factors, she said, include the gentle slope toward the water, the amount of green space on the land and its proximity to China Middle School and the Town Office, which are roughly three miles away.
“Geographically, the land itself met most of the criteria,” Wilkens said. “As you look toward the lake, the water is shallow and toddler-friendly. The area is highly visible from the road and easy to police.”
Initially, the location was too pricey for China, and the committee briefly stepped away from the negotiations.
“The property did not initially meet the financial demands we had,” Wilkens said. “We walked away from negotiations because all of us on the committee are taxpayers, and none of us wanted to see the tax bill go up because of this endeavor.”
When negotiations resumed, there was some reluctance by Wachusett Properties about a lower price.
“There was some hesitation, knowing that we had to sell it basically at the appraisal value for the town to buy it,” said Andy Samoiloff, treasurer for Wachusett Properties. “Ultimately, we agreed to sell it to the town.”
The company put the 3-acre waterfront section and an additional 6 acres across the road up for sale three years ago. The property includes about two dozen cabins, and the town has yet to decide what to do with them if the sale is approved, according to L’Heureux.
The cabins originally were developed to provide condominium-style cabins with lake access for families who typically couldn’t afford waterfront property.
“There was some skepticism with that idea, so we were ready to move on and sell the place,” Samoiloff said. “But we’re accomplishing the goal we set out to in the beginning. Ultimately there’ll be a spot where thousands of families can enjoy it.”
By purchasing the land, the town will be eliminating roughly $8,000 annually from property taxes, but L’Heureux hopes the addition of a quaint public park will foster growth in the town. Wachusett Properties owns 39 acres of subdivided land next to the space it has agreed to sell to the town, with the plan of developing that area into residential lots.
“If three families decide to live and build in that subdivision lot, it would make up the lost tax revenue,” L’Heureux said. “If six of the lots are developed, it doubles the initial tax revenue we received. People will come here when you make it known you have a quality place to live.”
A public hearing about the proposal is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 7 in China Middle School, ahead of the Nov. 5 vote.
Jesse Scardina — 861-9239