Paris to ask for lot to create park

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PARIS — Town officials are asking the owners of a riverside lot used to pump drinking water to residents on Paris Hill to return the property to the town, which has eyed the site for a park.

Officials and residents have been looking into obtaining green, public spaces for general recreation use for some time, and recent talks over the downtown’s future have raised public sentiment for a public-access launch and park.

On Tuesday, town officials sent the clearest signs yet that they hope to turn the 7-acre site at 1 Paris Hill Road into a park. It’s one of several ideas surfacing in the town’s bid to revitalize downtown, though selectmen suggested the deal is far from being done. 

At their meeting Tuesday night, selectmen authorized Town Manager Amy Bernard to draft a proposal on how the town intends to use the park which, once approved, will be presented to property owners, the Paris Utility District, for its board members to consider. 

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According to Selectman Robert Wessels, who met with district board members last week, the idea received positive reception, but more information on what the town intended to develop the site were needed.

“Ultimately they’re looking to get a plan from us … and what direction we’re going,” Wessels said. 

The property, which abuts the Little Androscoggin River, is an informal launching spot for kayaks, canoes and swimmers, and town officials hope to formally standardize its use. 

The site used to be the main station for the district, which expanded to a new site in 1975 and a new facility to meet increased sewage demand from industrial businesses. It kept its headquarters at the old station until a few years ago before moving to C.N. Brown Way.

However, the district still maintains a major wastewater pump station and sewer main servicing nearly half of its 1,000 users, and maintains several sheds covering discontinued wells. 

As a municipal entity, the utility district is exempt from paying taxes on the land and buildings. Tax records indicate the land is worth $84,000 and the buildings $57,000. The PUD owns several other parcels in Paris, including pump stations, water reservoirs and the wastewater treatment facility.

If approved by the Paris Utility District board, the deal pends review from state regulators at the Public Utilities Commission, Bernard said. Previously, district plant manager Steve Arnold said that while leasing the site was a viable option, it was extremely unlikely regulators would be willing to change the site’s designation, given that it’s still used as a public resource.

According to Bernard, deeds records indicate the town gave the Paris Utility District the site for free. Bernard said the district should return the property, with easements allowing it to maintain the pump station. 

After inquiring of the town’s attorney, Bernard said the process, including legal fees, could take around to eight months to finalize. 

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