Brunswick church project progresses; solar farm, greenhouse get OKs

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BRUNSWICK — The Planning Board on Tuesday acted on three projects that could change the face of the town.

A solar farm at Crystal Spring Farm, and a greenhouse and bakery at Tao Yuan restaurant on Pleasant Street received final approvals.

But the board OK’d only general guidelines for a proposed $4.75 million event center at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. The so-called common development plan is for a proposed 14,700-square-foot event center and two-story, 13,200-square-foot school on Pleasant Street.

A common development plan is different than an actual project application; instead of approving specific designs, the plan solidifies common development patterns, such as architecture and landscaping, to be followed in later phases of construction.

Representatives from St. John the Baptist will have to come back to the board for building approvals.

One important thing the common development plan does is preserve current zoning regulations. The parcel is divided between the Inner Pleasant Street and Intown Railroad Corridor zoning districts; only the Intown Railroad Corridor allows structures up to 20,000 square feet, and it encompasses slightly more than half of the property, making it the dominant zone.

The zoning and size of the building have been concerns for some neighbors. On Tuesday, parishioner Charlie Wiercinski, who has taken a leading role in the planning, pushed back against the characterization of the building as an “event center.”

He said that it is a multi-purpose building for the first phase of the school, “not a public space to be rented (out).”

Polly Ann Melton, of nearby Cedar Street, identified herself as a “tree advocate,” and said she objected to the cutting of several historic trees to construct the new event center.

She said although new trees would be planted, the uniformity in age and type would make the area feel “a little bit like a suburban shopping mall.”

Board members directed Town Planner Jared Woolston to change an element of the common development plan from planting “ornamental” to “native” trees and shrubs.

An application for the first phase of the project – construction of the event center – will have to come back to the Planning Board.

Solar farm

The board unanimously approved a special permit for the 76-Kilowatt solar farm at the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Crystal Spring Farm on Pleasant Hill Road.

The application was the second turned in by the project organizers, after the first elicited concern from neighbors, according to Town Planner Jared Woolston.

Steve Weems, a representative of the Crystal Spring Farm Community Solar Association, a nonprofit set up to run the operation, said the new verson eased some of the neighbors’ worries by moving the panels to a less visible portion of pasture and adding deciduous and coniferous trees as screening.

Farm manager Seth Kroek also said existing livestock fencing will protect the panels from vandalism.

Greenhouse

The decision on the greenhouse and bakery at Tao Yuan on Pleasant Street followed approval of the design by the Village Review Board last week.

The Planning Board approved plans for the greenhouse last year, but the applicants changed the design to accommodate light and noise concerns from neighbors in the nearby condominiums on Abbey Lane.

They also added space for the bakery, a new venture for Cara Stadler, a James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award semifinalist.

The board was satisfied with most of the changes, but pressed farm coordinator Kate Holcomb for reassurance that melting snow from the greenhouse roof would not re-freeze and cause a hazard for pedestrians.

Board members asked Town Planner Jared Woolston to add proof of safeguards against the hazard as a condition of approval, before passing the application unanimously.

Construction is planned to begin later this summer.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

The site of a new  community solar farm at the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Crystal Spring Farm on Pleasant Hill Road in Brunswick.

A rendering of a proposed new aquaponic greenhouse on Abbey Road, behind Tao Yuan restaurant on Pleasant Street.

A rendering of a proposed $4.75 million event center at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Brunswick.

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Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.