FRYEBURG — A special town meeting at the American Legion Tuesday at 6 p.m. will give voters a chance to make the Fryeburg eligible for a $150,000 federal grant for beautification, but there’s a hitch: To become eligible for the money, the town has to declare part of the downtown a slum.
“It’s 12 properties,” selectman Thomas Klinepeter said. Those properties are from the historical society building on Main Street to the first building on Portland Road. The warrant will ask voters “to designate a section of the downtown as slum and blighted,” he said. “This is the only way.”
The designation will make the town eligible for a federal community development grant to pay for new sidewalks, curbing, lighting and green space.
The town already got a $10,000 grant and did a study taking the first steps toward this project, Klinepeter said. “This is the second step.”
The designation will not guarantee Fryeburg gets the grant, he said, but without it there is no chance of getting the money. “Bridgton, when they redid their downtown, went through the same process.”
Still, the idea of declaring a portion of the town a slum was jarring to Klinepeter and others.
“Everyone has to have somewhat of a concern,” Klinepeter said, but the town doesn't qualify for the other avenues to become eligible for the money.
“There were concerns,” said Donna Woodward, of the Fryeburg Business Association, but “it’s a small price to pay for what you get in return.”
“It’s not like it’s going to be a big billboard out there declaring Fryeburg slum and blight,” she said. “What we found out from other communities is that stigma doesn’t stay with you.”
That explanation isn’t good enough for at least one business owner whose new venture will be tagged if the vote goes through.
Vic Rollins bought Papa’s Florals on Main Street in late December. A week and a half later he found out about the proposed designation.
“It kind of set me back on my heels a bit,” he said. “I just buy this property, and now they want to call it slum and blight.”
The plan, according to Rollins, has two flaws: Adding a bike lane and green space will almost surely reduce parking, and it won’t improve the buildings, which are what the designation addresses.
Adding sidewalks and plants won’t change the condition of the buildings, he said. “You’re calling something a name, but you’re not addressing the problem.”
Additionally, according to Rollins, the whole process was handled poorly.
“This might be the best thing since sliced bread,” he said, but it hasn’t been publicized enough or explained well enough to get property owners on board. “It just feels like this whole thing has been backroom politics.”
Woodward is hoping others don’t share that view: “In the big picture it’s a great thing for Fryeburg,” she said. “It’s just a shame to have Fryeburg be a pass-through community.”
Klinepeter, meanwhile, said he had no idea which way the vote will go.
“It all depends on who shows up,” he said.