2016-11-03 / Front Page

Courthouse selection continues

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD/ALFRED – The York County Courthouse Site Selection Commission met once again to hear presentations from landowners and to hear comments from members of the public. The commission met Oct. 31 at the current York County Courthouse in Alfred. Another meeting, expected to be the final meeting, is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 4, at the same location; that meeting is planned to be only discussion and deliberation amongst the commission members, without presentations or public comment.

As of the Oct. 31 meeting, candidate sites for the new courthouse are narrowed to three: first, Layman Way in Alfred, which is adjacent to York County Jail, second, two parcels near 515 Elm St. in Biddeford, and third, 11 acres at 60 Barra Road in Biddeford.

Gregory Zinser, manager for York County, presented on behalf of the Layman Way parcel.

“We have all of the critical services that are necessary to the continued administration of justice,” Zinser said. “We have the district attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office, we perform civil process, and, of course we have the county jail.”

“I think you need to give some discussion to the location of the district attorney’s office,” Zinser continued. “You should be recommending that it will be co-located within the new courthouse. If the two are separated, the effectiveness and efficiency of the unified criminal docket will suffer.”

The York County District Attorney is located in the current York County Courthouse in Alfred.

Zinser went on to discuss the possibility of a new transit service that could bring people from the coastal cities in to the new courthouse location if it were in Alfred. Also addressed was an issue with the jail’s septic system on Layman Way, which had been noted after the commission’s site visit.

“We all smelled it when we were there,” Zinser said.

“We actually did undertake a review of the septic system,” Zinser continued. “One of the pipes is improperly installed and not functioning. That is actually going to be fixed, probably within a few weeks.”

During opportunity for questions, Zinser was asked by commission member Sen. Linda Valentino (D-Saco) about the talk of York County giving the land without cost for the courthouse.

“I asked this at the very first meeting we had, whether or not you have the right to give away county land,” Valentino said. “I have not seen a letter from an attorney.”

Valentino asked if there might be a vote required by county officials, or whether deed restrictions might be an issue.

“The county commissioners fully support giving you folks the land,” Zinser said in response.

Zinser said giving the land for the courthouse would require a vote by Board of York County Commissioners. He added that he was not aware of any deed restrictions.

Biddeford Economic Development Director Daniel Stevenson presented on behalf of the Elm Street properties in Biddeford. He said the property has access to I-95 and wouldn’t require re-zoning.

“We’d like to have this kind of building as part of Biddeford and Saco’s growth,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson also discussed the difficulties with the site, and specifically access to natural gas and broadband internet.

“(Natural gas) would be one of the obstacles we’d be looking at,” Stevenson said.

According to Stevenson, a pipe would have to be run to deliver natural gas, which would be between one third and half of a mile, at between $60 and $100 per foot.

For internet, Stevenson said high-speed fiber internet does not go directly to the site, but the infrastructure could be developed.

“We figured ballpark $15,000 to get fiber to that site,” Stevenson said.

It wasn’t discussed whether the city would give the property to the county at no cost.

David Gould presented on behalf of the Barra Road parcel, which he owns. He said the site was already wellserved by public transportation, very close to I-95, and already connected to utilities.

“This site is really what I would consider a shovel-ready site,” Gould said.

Gould said the site is already zoned for courthouse use and that there are hotels nearby.

During opportunity for questions, Valentino pointed out that the parcel’s proximity to I-95 may in fact be an opportunity for signs.

“The land is higher, as I understand it, than the turnpike,” Valentino said. “So, if we go with a four-story building, there may be a possibility of signage on the building.”

Gould agreed.

During public comment, Gene Libby, a Kennebunk attorney who was York County district attorney before 1986, spoke in favor of locating the new courthouse in Alfred.

“Seating the courthouse in Biddeford, you’re seating the courthouse that is close to 25 percent of the population,” Libby said. “But you’re seating the courthouse away from 75 percent of the population of the county, located in a southern location.”

“I look back at the historical precedent that the founders of this great state said when they said ‘where should we locate the courthouse?’” Libby continued. “The shire town of Alfred was that location, because it was the place that was equidistant from all of the population of the county.”

Harry Center, an attorney and Old Orchard Beach resident supported the Biddeford sites. He said transportation was the biggest problem, and that when a person loses a driver’s license, it often means they can’t work.

“The only place you need to go to sort it out is a place you need to reach with a car,” said Center, former attorney for the city of Biddeford. “We’ve got to site this near an urban center.”

Also speaking was Susan Driscoll, another area attorney with offices in Kennebunk and Saco. She said that in the past she had served as president of the York Bar Association, and that that exposed her to many comments by area lawyers about the courthouse relocation.

“There was one clear takeaway,” Driscoll said. “‘Please don’t stick this courthouse in Alfred.’”

“On the civil side, we have witnesses coming in to trial,” Driscoll said. “We have expert witnesses, who are sometimes medical professionals, and they’re taking time out of the day to serve the important function of testifying at trial. The juries, as well. To have these people have to wind their way down Route 111, when we have the opportunity to put this right off the turnpike, it just doesn’t seem to make any sense.”

The meeting ended before any meaningful time for discussion by the commission members – discussion is deferred until Friday, Nov. 4 – but some comments offered a preview.

“The end result is going to be an edifice that’s gonna last at least a century, or longer, presumably,” said Hon. Thomas Humphrey, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice and commission chairman. “So we’ve gotta do a good job about picking something that’s suitable to that and to all of the issues that we’re trying to bring together here. We’re not going to be able to accommodate every single one of them in every single way. But we all need to know about, there may be things that are important to me that you aren’t aware of, there may be things that are important to you that I’m not aware of. We all need to hear that.”

“I believe we have to take into account the people that are using this building, not the people that are working here,” said Kathy Jones, clerk of court for Biddeford and Springvale. “We are public servants.”

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

FMI

The next meeting of the York County Courthouse Site Selection Commission will be 3 to 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4 in the library of the current York County Courthouse in Alfred. Opportunity for public comment is not expected.

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