WAYNE — Even as they voted Tuesday on whether to spend $15,000 to air out the title to a 118-acre wood lot on Wilson Pond, residents here were anxious to know the details of converting that lot into public use.

The daylong referendum vote included a request from selectmen for approval to spend $15,000 for legal expenses associated with quieting the title to tax-acquired property on House Road once owned by Robert Pettengill. The town foreclosed on the lot, which includes 1,500 feet of undeveloped shoreline on Wilson Pond on one side and panoramic vistas from another, when Pettengill failed to pay his taxes for five years. Town officials are exploring the idea of creating a protective easement for the property that could allow a variety of uses, but all would stress public recreational opportunities such as hiking.

Officials were still counting ballots late Tuesday evening. Results were unavailable.

A handful of voters exiting the polls Tuesday afternoon said they are intrigued by the idea of adding more public land and trails, but they hope the town will proceed cautiously.

“If they put trails out there, I think it would be cool,” Kai Pakulski said before entering the voting booth. “Nothing is happening with it now, so we should do something with it.”

The town took ownership of the property in April 2013 after Pettengill had failed to reply to numerous notices about the unpaid taxes, Town Manager Aaron Chrostowsky said last week. Pettengill owes $34,000 on the property, which the town has valued at $400,000.

Attorney Nat Hussey, who represents Pettengill, of Monmouth, said the town has rebuffed Pettengill’s effort to pay the back taxes and reclaim ownership of the land while still conserving much of the property. Pettengill sold another property and was ready to pay the back taxes and fees in accordance with a written proposal between Pettengill and the town, Hussey said, but town officials then demanded Pettengill also cover the town’s legal fees.

Quieting the title, if successful in court, would free the land from any claims of ownership by Pettengill, his family or anyone else. That would open up a host of avenues for the town to explore as it decides what to do with the land, Gary Kenny, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said last week. The town can keep the property or sell it for the taxes owed without quieting the title, but it cannot sell the property at market value or donate it to an organization to create an easement without settled ownership, Kenny said.

That is key because one of the options being considered is transferring ownership of the property to the Kennebec Land Trust, which has preserved more than 4,600 acres throughout the region. Executive Director Theresa Kerchner said last week that the trust would invest only the time and money necessary to create an easement to protect the property from development if the courts have confirmed the town’s ownership.

Lloyd Irland, chairman of the town’s conservation commission, said his group was impressed by the lot immediately when it visited the site at the selectmen’s request.

“We came back and said this should be a town forest or some kind of property that’s for conservation and public use,” Irland said moments after voting Tuesday afternoon. “That seemed to be well enough received that they said, ‘We’re going to continue down this path.'”

Irland, former director of the Maine Bureau of Public Lands and founder and president of The Irland Group, a forestry, economics and marketing consulting firm, said the property is unusual when compared to other available lots in Wayne. It has steep terrain, which makes much of the lot unsuitable for development, and it has a lengthy, untouched water frontage. The viewpoint near the southern end of Morrison Heights has vistas from three directions. Irland said the property compares favorably with Mount Pisgah, a nearby conservation area that is popular with local hikers for its spectacular views.

“When you take the package together, it’s as least as good as Mount Pisgah,” Irland said.

In addition to Tuesday’s binding vote on spending the $15,000 for legal fees, selectmen at Wednesday night’s Town Meeting will conduct a straw poll to gauge the public’s wish for the property. Irland said he’s heard different opinions on the property, from turning control over to an outside agency such as the Kennebec Land Trust to keeping it as a town-owned and town-controlled property. Many people, Irland said, want assurance that the property won’t be sold in the future.

“We hope the majority of the people will say, ‘We think there should be some sort of a town forest,’ leaving the question of how to do it to be determined,” Irland said. “I’d like to see it retained for conservation and public use. How you do that is under discussion. There are many options. The beauty is we don’t have to make all these decisions tomorrow.”

Martha Hoddinott, one of a steady stream of voters who turned out on Tuesday, said she supports the idea of protecting the property for public use, but is afraid Pettengill or someone else with a claim to the property could make things difficult for the town. A relative who is an attorney said the process of settling land ownership can be difficult.

“That’s my only concern,” Hoddinott said. “He said sometimes it can get pretty crazy. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Jan Dorson said she is acquainted with Pettengill, but is ambivalent about what to do with the property.

“I sure would like to see something to make it look a little better,” she said. “It’s kind of a mess.”

When asked to elaborate, Dorson said, “It just doesn’t fit Wayne.”

Dorson said she thinks the best approach for the town would be to sell the property outright.

“I’d like to see it taken care of,” she said. “I think it probably would do well to be sold, but that’s my opinion.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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