Midcoast community wants former state prison site turned into public park

THOMASTON, Maine — In the 20 years since the demolition of the old Maine State Prison, the 15-acre parcel along Highway 1 in Thomaston where it stood has remained undeveloped open space.

Now, a group of residents have filed a petition to keep the site that way forever.

The citizens’ petition, submitted last week, asks voters to decide whether or not the city should permanently dedicate the entire site, known as Thomaston Green, to a public park for recreational purposes and community events. . For decades, the city has tried to attract green development to generate tax revenue. But, attempts to develop the property beyond just being green space never came to fruition.

Over the past 20 years the green has become a popular place for walking and general recreation. The city has built a gazebo there and the site is also sometimes used for community events.

While the fate of Thomaston Green will ultimately depend on voters, some city officials believe dedicating the entire site to use as a park would eliminate opportunities for needed housing development, tax growth and potentially a future home. for a new emergency services building. .

“It’s difficult, it’s really difficult. I commend the citizens who went there and talked to their neighbors and got all the support they needed. I take this very seriously,” said Zel Bowman-Laberge, Board Member of Thomaston Select. “If in the end the Thomaston Green is never developed, I just hope we can all work together to find other ways to develop housing projects in Thomaston or find other ways to offset some of the spending and increase the tax base.”

The Thomaston Select Board accepted the petition, submitted by Friends of Thomaston Green, on Monday evening. According to the law, once the collected signatures have been verified, the question of the petition must be submitted to the voters at the next municipal assembly, scheduled for June.

The city purchased the property from the state in 2005. Over the years, the city has made investments on the site, such as building a road and extending some utilities, such as water lines. sewer, on the site to prepare it for development, according to Thomaston Select board member Bill Hahn, who has been involved in site redevelopment efforts for the past 20 years.

But the city has resisted development efforts recently, including in September 2020 when voters rejected two proposals that would have created housing – both for the elderly and people with disabilities – on part of the site.

Hahn said the city always intended to keep part of the site, including a walking path that runs along the south end of the property, as a public space.

Thomaston is currently working on a Parks and Recreation Master Plan for the city’s public spaces and pathways. Potential future uses for Thomaston Green will be included in the plan, although those recommended uses primarily focus on how the site can serve as a launch point for accessing the city’s trail system, according to John Fancy, the superintendent of the city ​​pollution control. , who participated in the plan development process.

The Thomaston Green has also recently been discussed as a potential site for a new fire and EMS building, although no formal plan has been drawn up.

Bowman-Laberge and Hahn said they would support the green being used as a recreation area, but also with space for limited development.

“As far as I’m concerned, I think maybe it should be developed more than nothing, but probably not as intensely as 15 or 18 years ago,” Hahn said. “My personal opinion is some sort of development on the main street side of the property and leave the rest to some recreational use.”

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