The Brunswick town council has approved an ordinance authorizing the town to enter into an agreement with a developer for the town's Maine Street Station site, despite significant concerns expressed by Brunswick residents at Monday's public hearing.
The development project, located adjacent to Hannaford and the McClellan Building, could include retail shops, a train station, offices, a hotel, and even a downtown cinema.
Forest Lowe of the Brunswick town council outlined the Maine Street Station project for the audience, explaining that plans have been under way for this development for many years, and that the meeting would allow them to finally begin the project.
Aware that residents were concerned about the potential changes this development could bring, Lowe assured that developer J. Hilary Rockett has the best intentions for Brunswick, and that the plans will attempt to maintain the current flavor and character of the town.
"Hilary is committed to working with local businesses as a part of this project," Lowe said. "It's definitely a focus."
Lowe also addressed concerns about the town-owned building that houses a local senior center, People Plus, which falls within the development site. He stated that the ultimately the town hopes to relocate it to the land vacated by the naval air station, and impressed upon the audience that its new accommodations would be an improvement.
Brunswick's Director of Economic Development Matt Eddy stated that the town's biggest expenditures will be the $2 million Brunswick will need to put forward for infrastructure costs and the value of the land that will be lost by donating rather than selling it to the developers. Officials are confident, however, that they can offset the costs through grants, and that the numbers should be turning positive in the short-term.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, Brunswick resident Jim Doherty expressed his concerns about the financial costs of the project. Originally under the impression that taxpayers would not be on the hook for the $2 million needed, Doherty was angry that plans seemed to have changed.
Marji Greenhut, another resident, expressed her concern about the development agreement, and the fact that the developer could legally abandon the project after the completion of its first phase.
"The promise needs to be a signed commitment of goals or Maine Street Station will again anguish as an empty lot," said Greenhut. "I strongly consider slowing down the process. This is not the time to rush?this is the time to think about what our original plan was."
Resident George Gilmore asked the council why it had decided to give the land away to the developer, when it could have sold it, leased it, or become a partner in the transaction.
"To just give the land away seems shortsighted," he said.
"If the project fails, the town ought to get the land back," Gilmore added.
After the public hearing, the floor was given back to the town council and members of the committee, who worked to address concerns raised by residents.
Eddy in particular responded to many of the concerns, and explained that it made more sense for the town to donate the land to the developer because of coal ash remediation work that needs to be done on the site.
"We don't believe the project can carry the cost of the land if we charge it at full value," Eddy said.
Eddy also mentioned that if Rockett does decide to walk away, the land can be reconveyed back to the town. Although he did concede that the town was taking risks, he was confident that Rockett was "the right man for the job."
Near the end of the meeting, council members were given the floor to express their opinions. Several members seemed hesitant, especially Jacqueline Sartoris and Hallie Daughtry. Councilor at Large David Webb stated that he was "uncomfortable with the way that the town is protected in phase one," but apart from that reservation, seemed enthusiastic.
After a short break, the council voted unanimously to pass the ordinance.