Brunswick council juices grant application for power upgrade

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BRUNSWICK — In a decision that will likely disappoint some neighbors of a planned mixed-use development along Old Portland Road, the Town Council on Monday voted 8-1 to authorize a grant application that could upgrade power capacity to the site.

The $50,000 Community Development Block Grant was pursued by Maine Tool & Machine, currently located on Industry Road. The owner, Cliff Wilson, has since expressed interest in moving to a lot near the so-called Brunswick Commerce Center, the development by Bill Moore that is currently under Planning Board review.

Last year Moore attempted to sell the property to the town to build a controversial business park. The proposal was largely unpopular with neighbors along Durham Road, who claimed the development would contribute to sprawl and ruin the area’s rural character. The council walked away from the deal after deeming it too expensive.

The recent CDBG application brought out similar concerns from neighbors. Several sent letters to town councilors urging caution, and on Monday some neighbors again voiced their concerns. But ultimately the majority of councilors said denying the application would go against the council’s goal of supporting existing businesses.

“I think there is no reason not to support this,” Councilor Margo Knight said. “I think every single one of our town councilors, at one time or another, has said that our Economic Development Department should be reaching out to our businesses, to retain them, to help them out. And this is a fine example of that.”

At-large Councilor Debbie Atwood agreed. Atwood had initially raised questions about the proposal, worrying that the development could lead to sprawl along Old Portland Road. But on Monday, Atwood wasn’t convinced her concerns justified a vote against the proposal.

“I simply can’t be a big enough hypocrite to vote against this,” said Atwood, adding that she was one of the authors of council’s goals for 2009.

Councilor Karen Klatt was the lone dissenting vote. Klatt, who lives adjacent to the development and was a persistent opponent to the business park, argued that there are plenty of infill sites to meet Maine Tool & Machine’s power needs, including Industry Road, which already has the three-phase power the company is seeking. 

Councilor Gerald Favreau issued a curt response.

“It’s capital enterprise, OK?” Favreau said. “It’s personal preference. Freedom of choice.”

Klatt dismissed Favreau’s explanation.

“Whatever that means,” she responded. “Why not locate to an infill site? It’s a question of mine and a question you should all be asking yourselves.”

Wilson, the company owner, later explained that he’d been searching for a new lot for nearly two years and that the Moore property best fits his budget for expansion. He added that the town’s Public Works Department consumed most of the available amperage on Industry Road. 

Acting Town Manager Gary Brown added that the town wouldn’t be financing the power upgrade, only facilitating the grant. Wilson, Brown said, would be providing the grant match – about $500,000.

Klatt’s questions did little to persuade the rest of the council.

Chairwoman Hallie Daughtry, a longtime business park skeptic, argued that because the development meets existing zoning it is technically an infill lot. 

“This isn’t about extending the growth zone,” Daughtry said.    

The issue could surface again. The council must vote again to approve the CDBG grant if the application is successful.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or