Bath saw several projects launch in 2010, more to come in '11

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BATH — This year saw several key projects get off the ground in the City of Ships, including as a new downtown hotel and improvements to address traffic, water and sewer problems.

At the same time, proposed artificial turf for McMann Field and the development of the third phase of the Wing Farm business park generated controversy.

The Hampton Inn opened at 140 Commercial St. in May. The 55,000-square-foot hotel, built on the Prawer block and bounded by Front, Commercial and Summer streets, received city approval in November 2008. In June 2009 the City Council approved an amendment that expanded the city’s downtown tax increment financing district by 2.4 acres to include the hotel.

The city’s installation of new pipelines along Central Avenue and Centre Street, as well as construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Congress Avenue and State Road, are largely complete.

The Hyde Park Pump Station water main extension on Central Avenue started in June. The project involved upgrading a pressurized waste-water pipeline that leads from the Hyde Park pump station on Drayton Road to a manhole near the Bath Area Family YMCA entrance on Centre Street.

The existing pipeline was undersized, and the growth of the Wing Farm Business Park off Congress Avenue will add extra pressure to that system, Public Works Director Peter Owen said in July.

The Centre Street road reconstruction and utility upgrade, which began this summer, involved replacement of a water main running east from the end of Bluff Road to boost capacity. The Hyde Park force main was extended east from the entrance of the YMCA to High Street, where it could discharge into a different collection area and flow to the Commercial Street pump station.

The extension was meant to alleviate the amount of discharge flowing into a collection area near the YMCA entrance. Excess discharge resulted in overflows in the Park Street neighborhood. The project has also involved the separation of storm-water catch basins from the sanitary sewer system, as well as the rebuilding and improvement of the sidewalks and roadway along Centre Street after installation of the new pipelines.

Through the roundabout project, a one-lane traffic circle design has replaced the previous T-style intersection, where heavy traffic often made it difficult for drivers to turn from Congress Avenue onto State Road. Owen said the roundabout would increase traffic capacity by 42 percent.

Turf field

One project that was heavily debated by the City Council and residents was the installation of artificial turf at McMann Field.

The Fields for Our Future Committee raised $270,000 for the project before it approached the council about borrowing the remaining funds. The council voted 5-4 in February to borrow up to $300,000 for the turf field, but a successful petition drive sent the matter to a referendum. Voters in June defeated the borrowing proposal 1,522 to 861.

The City Council then voted 5-1 in September to support the turf installation, as long as there would be no request for or appropriation of taxpayer funds. The Fields for Our Future Committee is continuing its fundraising efforts.

A reserve fund was to be established to provide funding for the eventual replacement of the turf field. Fundraising for the initial installation is subject to a five-year sunset provision, at which time the council will decide whether additional fundraising is appropriate or if the project should end and its donations be returned.

Wing Farm III

Controversy also surrounded the third phase of Wing Farm.

Although the 25-acre, nine-lot project will be built in West Bath, all the road impact will be in Bath, where the first two phases are located. Bath’s approval was also necessary because about 350 feet of King’s Highway, where a sewer and water line will run, is in that city.

The Planning Board approved the third phase in April, and the next month Robert and Wendy Johansen filed a lawsuit in Sagadahoc County Superior Court that appealed that decision. The Johansens’ 520 Centre St. property does not abut the third Wing Farm phase, but it sits within 100 feet of two lots of that phase. The couple’s concerns include traffic growth from the development of phases two and three and possible wetland impacts.

Justice Andrew Horton ordered in July that the case be sent back to the Planning Board. The board voted unanimously in September to amend its approval of phase three. But upon the case returning to court this month, Horton again ordered the case remanded to the board.

The continued involvement in the case of attorney Roger Therriault, who was representing both defendant Bath and applicant West Bath, prompted the remand. Attorney Patrick Scully is now representing Bath in the case.

Horton also ordered this month that a stay be put on any city action concerning King’s Highway.

City Manager Bill Giroux said the phase two lots are “shovel-ready” and that marketing for them will ramp up in 2011.

Other projects

The City Council voted in the spring to borrow up to $175,000 to purchase the former National Guard Armory. The panel then voted last month to turn the building over to the over to the Bath Development Corp., which will be able to use grant funding to improve the building.

Although a use for the Old Brunswick Road property has yet to be determined, it has been eyed by some as the possible next home of the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark, which is currently run in the former YMCA on Summer Street.

The city has entered into a contract with R.J. Enterprises, which will conduct the environmental cleanup at the Armory early next year.

The City Council gave preliminary approval early this month to borrow $1.1 million for work that includes improvements at Waterfront Park, such as replacement of a pier and better banking.

The bond will be repaid through funds from the city’s Downtown Tax Increment Financing District, and not from taxes.

For recreation lovers, the Whiskeag Trail opened in September. The five-mile trail links the Bath Area Family YMCA to the Thorne Head Preserve.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.