MANCHESTER — Residents at a raucous annual Town Meeting Thursday night rejected funding for a new park voters had just approved the concept for two days earlier.

They also approved a comprehensive plan, despite fears about its potential impact on landowner rights, and questioned town officials’ pay raises.

Also, over the course of the 4 1/2-hour meeting, residents first granted a vocal nonresident the right to speak at the meeting, later rescinded it, and then in a third vote agreed to let him talk again.

The vote to reject using $23,000 to create a grassy park on the former site of the old fire station further muddies an issue residents said was already confusing to them when they went to the polls Tuesday.

In a Tuesday referendum vote, residents were asked to pick which of two park proposals for the former fire station site they preferred — one about 7,200 square feet, the other roughly twice that size.

The smaller version of the park received the most votes Tuesday, 242-217.

However, speakers at the annual town meeting said the ballot question was confusing to voters, and lacked both a firm budget and a design to give residents a clear idea of what they were voting on. Selectmen were also criticized for even putting the smaller park on the Tuesday ballot, which was not recommended by a committee charged with choosing a park design.

“This process has been messed up,” said Doug Ide, a member of the park committee. “I’m tempted to say ‘Let’s not appropriate any of the funds and start over.'”

Residents overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to use $23,000 for the new park from the town’s undesignated fund balance, which Town Manager Patrick Gilbert said was income gained by Manchester renting the former fire station to the town of Readfield. That leaves the plan approved at the polls Tuesday with no funding.

Voters later approved a new comprehensive plan, some two years in the making, to replace the town’s 20-year old comprehensive plan, in a 37-21 vote.

Numerous residents loudly voiced fears the comprehensive plan could affect their way of life and restrict landowner’s rights.

Paul McCarrier, who said he was a professional analyst hired by residents to assist them in expressing their concerns about the comprehensive plan and other warrant articles, distributed a flyer that posed questions about the plan. Such questions included whether residents could lose their land to the eminent domain process because the plan envisioned the town realigning some roads in town.

Selectman Martha Nielsen, chairwoman of the Comprehensive Planning Committee, said there was nothing in the plan allowing property to be taken.

She said comprehensive plans don’t establish ordinances or set law; they give officials a guide to what residents want their town to be like as they plan for the town’s future.

McCarrier warned that a comprehensive plans can have negative consequences, citing a town in Pennsylvania where, he claimed, an area with water access was re-zoned to no longer be residential, and residents there were eventually pushed out of the area.

“I want to make sure residents of Manchester are informed about the extensiveness of this plan,” McCarrier said. “I urge you to not vote to approve the comprehensive plan.”

Nielsen responded by saying the plan is meant to protect residents from unwanted development in town. Addressing McCarrier, Nielsen said, “Please don’t come to us with blanket statements that do not apply to our plan.”

Even commenting at all proved to be an adventure for McCarrier.

In the first article to come to a vote Thursday, residents voted to allow McCarrier and other nonresidents, all named in a list, to speak during the meeting. After McCarrier spoke on a few issues and challenged moderator Lee Bragg’s conduct of the meeting, residents voted to reconsider, and ultimately rescind, McCarrier’s right to speak.

Two hours later, just before the discussion on the comprehensive plan, a resident made a motion to again allow McCarrier to speak, which was approved. McCarrier thanked residents for the opportunity to speak about the plan.

Residents passed most of the articles related to the town’s proposed $1.7 million budget, but not without questioning spending.

Waldo Henderson suggested residents vote to reduce a $312,000 article for town employee compensation and benefits by taking away money to pay for Gilbert’s raise.

Gilbert said his salary is $53,000 a year and he doesn’t take health insurance coverage from the town. He and other town employees received a 2 percent raise.

Henderson said Gilbert shouldn’t get a raise because state workers and many other area workers have not gotten raises in recent years.

Residents approved the article as proposed on the warrant.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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