CHINA — Voters overwhelmingly rejected the town’s purchase of lakefront property Tuesday night on Election Day, voting against the purchase 1,004—314.
Voters were asked to authorize the purchase of The Cabins on China Lake for $575,000, with the town borrowing $465,000 toward the purchase in a way deemed best for the town. The property eventually would have been turned into a public park.
The voter turnout Tuesday at the Town Office was heavy, and Town Manager Dan L’Heureux said about roughly 900 of the town’s approximately 3,000 registered voters had been to the polls by 4 p.m.
The main issues residents have been concerned about were the price of the property, the question of where additional funding for upkeep and redevelopment would come from and how the area would be policed.
“I’d prefer not to pay additional taxes to spend one or two days a year at the property,” said Melissa Tenney, 34, who has lived in China for 10 years. “I pay enough taxes, and if I want to take my two kids to a beach, I don’t mind driving somewhere and paying for it once.”
Outside the Town Office, longtime China residents John Soifer, 64, and his wife, Deb, 62, said they voted for the purchase. Deb Soifer, who taught in China schools for about 16 years and has lived in town for 36 years, said the location would be beneficial for after-school activities.
“I think this is a perfect placement,” she said. “It’s not entirely about getting lake access. There’s nowhere for kids to go for recreation.”
The property at 1270 Lakeview Drive includes three acres on the lake side of the road and six acres across the street.
At a public hearing in October, residents were split on the purchase, with supporters hoping the project eventually would provide greater access for residents without lakefront property. There is a boat landing on China Lake, but no town beach. Residents against the purchase questioned the price, the long-term planning associated with the park and how the area would be policed.
Public beach access has been on the town’s agenda since 2008, when it was described as a major priority for the town in China’s 2008 comprehensive plan. During the last five years, China worked closer to achieving its goal, eventually establishing the China Lake Access Feasibility Committee, which suggested the purchase of The Cabins.
Opponents have noted that China already owns lakefront property at the boat landing near the north end of the lake, but it’s also in an Inland Waterfowl Wader Habitat, which makes it difficult to receive a permit for building a park.
The committee decided on the Lakeview Drive property based on its central location — about two miles from town hall — as well as its gentle slope into the lake and its updated septic equipment.
Still, it’s unclear what the town will do with the land or the roughly two dozen buildings on the lot, and this lack of a plan frustrated some residents.
L’Heureux said the committee’s lone objective was to find suitable property for purchase and not to determine what they would do with the land after buying it. It would be up to the Board of Selectmen and voters to decide what to do with the property.
Ideas such as leaving some of the cabins to rent, building a parking lot on the lake side of the road and upgrading the land across the street have been discussed, but some residents are unsure of how development would be funded.
If the town does buy the land, it would lose $8,000 annually in property taxes, but it hopes to make it up in property taxes from people moving to China for the use of a public park and lake access.
Incumbent Irene Belanger and Amber McAllister were victorious in the race for two seats on the Board of Selectmen, beating out Al Althenn and incumbent Steven Hughes. Belanger finished with 633 votes, McAllister finished with 554, Hughes finished with 521 and Althenn finished with 406.
Althenn, 68, a businessman who has lived in China for most of his life and has been on the Planning Board, was running for the third time.
Belanger, 73, is a retired real estate agent who has been on the board for seven years.
Hughes, 55, is a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who has been on the board the last two years.
McAllister, 27, is a program officer for Maine Housing and was running for the board for the first time since moving to China in 2009.
Robert Bennett beat incumbent Charles Clark for a seat on the Regional School Unit 18 board, 631-446.