Brunswick council moves forward with parking garage grant

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council is moving ahead with attempts to secure funding for a parking garage at Maine Street Station.

The council authorized town staff on Monday to apply for a $400,000 Communities for Maine’s Future grant, which is administered by the state Department of Economic and Community Development and would be matched by the Brunswick Development Corp. on behalf of the town.

The town is also hoping to secure $2 million in federal funding for the project, although it is unclear where that money would come from.

To qualify for the Communities for Maine’s Future grant, the proposed project must be within the downtown or village center. Parking garages are excluded from the grant, except when they are directly related to “the support of transit-related activities.”

Because the facility would provide long-term parking for passengers on the Amtrak Downeaster or Concord Trailways, Brunswick’s proposal may be eligible.

But one town councilor, Debbie Atwood, had reservations about the grant because the council has not decided where to put the garage, how much it will cost, and what it will look like.

“Steps like this assume the McLellan-Longfellow swap,” she said, referring to the proposed exchange of the town-owned Longfellow School for Bowdoin College’s McLellan office building at the corner of Union and Noble streets.

The grant application identifies the McLellan parking lot, which is now owned by the college, as the site of the future multi-story garage.

Atwood said she is concerned that if the town receives the grant, there will be “an assumption that we’ll just push ahead with the garage” without adequate public input in the process.

“I’m concerned that (the grant) sets things in motion that will not allow us to listen to these people,” she said, referring to the three residents of Noble Street who spoke at Monday’s meeting.

One of the speakers was Jill Victor, who encouraged councilors to “protect our neighborhood and our children” from negative effects that a garage could have on Noble Street residents.

She asked the council to consider constructing a “green noise barrier,” or sound-absorbing wall covered with thick vegetation, around the facility, as well as maintaining sidewalks and a residential setback along Noble Street.

Marji Greenhut, also of Noble Street, wondered why the garage had to be built behind the McLellan building. She asked the council to consider working out a deal with Hannaford Bros. to build it on the supermarket’s parking lot.

Councilor Margo Knight, who represents the downtown area, said she spoke informally with Hannaford management about that possibility, and their response was neutral.

Shawn Sutton, assistant manager of the Brunswick Hannaford store, said Wednesday that he hadn’t heard anything about the idea. He said any decisions about a shared parking facility would come from the store’s corporate headquarters in Scarborough.

Knight also suggested that the yet-to-be-formed Downtown Master Plan and Outer Pleasant Street Master Plan Implementation Committee should take on the planning and design of the garage.

“This is a perfect first project for the committee,” she said, because its membership includes downtown and Pleasant Street residents, business owners, and a member of the Brunswick Downtown Association, among others.

Winning the Communities for Maine’s Future grant would be a significant step, but additional funding will be necessary to complete the parking garage, which is estimated in the Capital Improvement Plan to cost $3.4 million. The plan indicates that an additional $2 million would come from federal grants, with town bonds providing the balance of $1 million.

Brian Dancause, the town’s business development and support specialist, said that in 2009, former Director of Economic Development Dave Markovchick tried and failed to secure $3.2 million in federal money for the garage.

Since then, town staff have been searching for new funding opportunities for the project. Finance Director John Eldridge said as of right now, no sources have been identified.

At Monday’s meeting, Councilor Benet Pols suggested that the Brunswick Development Corp. pay for the construction of the entire facility. Currently, the BDC has committed to providing $400,000 to match the Communities for Maine’s Future grant.

The BDC is a nonprofit, quasi-municipal economic development agency. It has $2.4 million to grant or lend to economic development projects.

Councilor Ben Tucker said on Monday that securing federal and state funding is essential, because he does not want Brunswick residents to be responsible for the bulk of the construction costs. He and other councilors indicated they have “a threshold” for how much taxpayer money they would be willing to devote to the project.

However, if no additional funding is identified, Eldridge said borrowing may be the only option.

“We have no other source,” he said, “if it has to be funded locally it has to come from bonds.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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