BRUNSWICK — The Town Council Monday approved a zoning change request from Bowdoin College that will allow the opening of a new residence hall.
Bowdoin’s request was to add residence halls as a permitted use for the Mixed Use 3 Zone, on and around Harpswell Road.
The council also approved a budget amendment for a new ambulance and Park Row road maintenance, and another zoning change that will allow a Brunswick Landing business to move ahead.
The 6-2 vote on Bowdoin’s request will allow the college to convert a former retirement home at 52 Harpswell Road into a residence hall.
The proposal has been opposed by neighbors concerned about the college’s encroachment on the neighborhood and possible expansion in the future. A Bowdoin representative said the college will voluntarily submit its renovation plan to the Planning Board for major development review.
“I know some of the neighbors are concerned about buffering, fencing, lighting and noise,” said S. Catherine Longley, treasurer and senior vice president for finance and administration at Bowdoin.
Longley said Bowdoin is looking into making the new resident hall a chem-free zone, which traditionally has led to quieter activity. She said the residence hall will house up to 30 students, and it will allow the college to place more students closer to the campus.
In a nearly hour-long discussion, the council discussed the merits of making residence halls a permitted use versus requiring a special permit for them in the Mixed Use 3 Zone.
The latter proposal failed 6-2 after councilors expressed concerns that a special permit would be too restrictive and could ultimately prevent Bowdoin from pursuing the project.
Councilors Sarah Brayman and John Perreault, who opposed Bowdoin’s request and supported requiring a special permit, both expressed concerns about the impact of a sweeping change on abutting neighbors, especially if Bowdoin decides to expand in the future.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook from neighbors who are concerned about the zoning change,” Brayman said. “… I very much appreciate the lengths to which Bowdoin College is going to work with the neighbors. … However, I will not be supporting this tonight.”
Brayman also cited a statement by Planning Board Chairman Charlie Frizzle, who said the original zoning change request will put the law on the side of Bowdoin and not the neighbors.
But with a special permit, according to Frizzle, any plan must receive the “virtual concurrence of all of its neighbors.” Any neighbor with “substantial objective evidence” could stop the plan in its tracks.
“I do not wish to grant those property rights without any limitations on them because I believe the neighbors need some protection,” Brayman said, “and that tension between the college and neighbors is such an important thing to guard and to look at – to be tweaking with the ordinance like this, it’s not up to snuff.”
Other councilors shared Brayman and Perreault’s concerns, but ultimately supported the measure.
“I am satisfied that the college is doing what it can, but I also want to emphasize a point I made in the past,” Councilor Ben Tucker said. “… We need a comprehensive zoning rewrite.”
Councilor John Richardson said he would rather deal with the college than with a third party that would also house college students.
“I still remain very concerned about one piece of property down on Harpswell Road that Bowdoin has no control over, but there are obviously students living in it,” Richardson said, “and I don’t think I like that as an alternative versus the alternative of holding Bowdoin College’s feet to the fire with respect to how this particular housing complex will be administered.”
The meeting’s second zoning change was passed swiftly and unanimously.
The change will allow businesses to use certain buildings at Brunswick Landing for professional office use. The town’s zoning ordinance previously restricted the use to aviation-related purposes.
SaviLinx, a new call center led by entrepreneur Heather Blease, will be one of the businesses to move into the area affected by the change.