Voters roar

‘no’ to plans for village center

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CANTON – The air outside the municipal building Friday night was hot, but it was even hotter inside, where most of the 100 people again voted down every article meant to develop and finance a new village center.

Mistrust of government and concern about low-income people and drugs moving in were common themes.

“We voted this thing down last week, and you didn’t like the results, so we have to vote again,” Percy Butler said, referring to the July 12 special meeting.

The wording on one article then left voters thinking they would be taxed by the water district to repay a loan from the Rural Development Infrastructure Loan that is necessary to install the village water system, Canton Administrative Assistant Kathy Hutchins said. The loan will be paid back when new homeowners in the village start paying taxes, she said.

They also voted down a proposal to designate the area as an Affordable Housing District that totals 31.1 acres and consists of five parcels of land purchased by the town in 2006-2007.

To utilize some of the loan/grant funds, the town needs to designate the development as an “affordable housing district.” This means that for a period of time, say 30 years, the town agrees that a portion of the houses will be only sold to people who make $60,000 a year or less.

Residents on July 12 chose to reject the Affordable Housing Development plan, which says it fits the town’s comprehensive plan, is not in conflict with the municipal charter, will have 40 single-family homes and some multifamily structures that may house up to 12 apartments, and is consistent with state requirements on residential use. They rejected it again Friday.

The article that caused the most concern on July 12 was reworded to see if the town will vote to “designate a minimum of $29,000 per year of tax revenues (from the affordable Housing Subdivision) to the Canton Water District to be applied to the repayment of the RDI loan …”

The town has already received grants from the Rural Development Infrastructure for $721,300, a state grant for $500,000 and a Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston Grant for $400,000. This is money that does not have to be repaid.

That reworded article was rejected Friday.

Special projects coordinator for the town, Diane Ray, moderated Friday’s meeting, trying to keep order amid yelling and screaming from the audience.

She noted that three years ago the town voted for the present location for the new village center, which was to be built to accommodate residents displaced by the flooding Androscoggin River in 2003. Those houses are now gone, and the infrastructure is ready to go into the new center.

“The development is going through. Water and sewer is already in the works,” Ray told residents packing the hall. “It is costing the town nothing. Canton is known all over the state for this endeavor.”

What if sales don’t meet expectations, one person asked.

John Hodge, executive director of Brunswick Housing Authority, said there are many factors to make the new town center attractive. He listed location, price of houses, the lake, rivers and woods. He said houses will sell for $120,000 to $140,000 but will probably be appraised for $160,000.

“There is no guarantee, but we hope to have all the homes sold and built in two years,” he added.

The houses will be marketed by Auburn Housing Authority, and those interested may call 784-7351.

“Who’s going to buy?” screamed one unidentified person as others chimed in with concerns about people coming because of low-income housing and bringing in drugs.

“Where’s the crack going to be? yelled Deborah Ulmer.

“I can’t imagine why anyone would ask that question,” Hodge answered. He said the applicants for homes will be screened and must meet certain criteria to prove they can make the payments.

“We are just rubber-stamping this project, and when the government is in control with these grants this thing is totally out of control,” Tom Gerrety said. “We want to know who is going to move here. Just look at what happened in Lewiston.”

“All people who come will have to qualify to pay back the mortgage,” explained Selectman Rick Ray.

There was loud clapping and yelling as Ray tried to restore order. More outbursts followed as people said they had been misled and questioned if more fire engines, rescue and schools would be needed.

Jack Somers said after the meeting that he was hoping to leave town.

“I’ve had enough. What we’ve been told has not been consistent. When the government is involved everything is a failure.”

Ray was still smiling even though the articles failed.

“This just means that we can’t use (Tax Increment Financing). We’ll either have to raise the price of the houses or find other grants.”

She said townspeople wanted housing to replace the flooded homes at no cost to the town, and this is in the process of being accomplished.

“It’s hard to do what the people wish when they vote the very thing they asked for down. The project will move forward, just at a slower pace as we try to seek more grants,” she said.

A Community Development Block Grant is expected next year for $500,000, as is a Maine State Housing Authority Subdivision grant for $300,000.

If the town decides to kill the project, it can use the $500,000 from the state to pay back the MSHA loan of $486,000, according to Ray.

It can’t be done later, Ray said. If the town takes the money and puts in the infrastructure, but doesn’t build a single house, the improved lots can be sold to pay back the Rural Development loan.

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