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BRUNSWICK — The town has taken the first steps towards making a downtown parking garage a reality.
At their July 16 meeting, town councilors voted 8-1 to spend $75,000 from available tax increment finance revenues to fund a site evaluation and preliminary design. Councilor James Mason was opposed.
The council also voted to send a letter of support to the Maine Department of Transportation in agreement with the MDOT’s recommended replacement options for the Frank J. Wood Bridge.
According to town documents, the town is working on two new parking options downtown: one with MDOT to improve the parking lot on Cedar Street, as well as exploring the feasibility of a new parking structure. The town is looking at parcels at 85 Union St., in the parking lot behind the Town Office building. It is also considering the Bank Street parking lot for a parking garage.
A July 9 letter from Town Manager John Eldridge to councilors states that during last year’s budget process, staff determined that to have the structure option “shovel ready” for potential federal funding, a site selection and feasibility study would be necessary.
Funding for the study was then included in the Department of Economic and Community Development’s 2017-18 budget at $40,000.
However, after receiving RFPs from seven engineering and architectural firms, town staff decided unanimously to recommend the Portland-based company Becker Structural Engineers for the contract, which had a proposal totaling $73,000.
“We feel the most appropriate course would be to let the $40,000 budget appropriation lapse back into the TIF and appropriate a full $75,000 from the TIF for the project,” Eldridge’s letter states.
It also says proposals received by the town in response to the RFP ranged from $28,000 to $126,000.
Councilor James Mason said he had “some concerns about the idea of a parking garage” in Brunswick, which he called a small town, though he agreed the town has “parking issues.”
“My concern is two-fold in that if we are then going to go through with this project, then we are going to most likely have some sort of multi-million dollar price tag that the town is going to pay,” he said.
Councilor Christopher Watkinson, however, called the idea “attractive,” especially if the town charges patrons to use the structure.
“This is exactly the kind of investment that generates income for the town,” he said. “When we’re faced with looking at taxpayers every year, that’s obviously a perennial conversation about how much we keep on the shoulders of the taxpayers – this is an example, I think, of a great alternative.”
Councilors voted 6-2 to send a letter of support to MDOT for its recommendation to replace the so-called “Green Bridge.”
Councilors Stephen Walker and Christopher Watkinson were opposed.
A draft version of the letter to MDOT states councilors “acknowledge and appreciate the extensive analysis the Maine Department of Transportation conducted in considering rehabilitation or replacement of the bridge.”
A final plan for the bridge is expected to be released by the end of the summer, though MDOT has maintained its recommended solution is to replace the bridge.
In June 2017 MDOT released a statement that said building a new bridge at an upstream location was their “preferred alternative” to rehabilitating the bridge.
Before a final decision can be released, an environmental report must be completed.
John Graham, president of the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, a group that has been advocating to save the structure for two years, urged councilors not to send the letter until all the information is released.
“Nothing has changed since last summer,” Graham told councilors. “The full NEPA document – when that is released I suggest we all read it and make an educated decision.”
Councilor Stephen Walker echoed that sentiment in his reason for voting against the motion.
“I take my job as councilor very seriously, and knowing I have constituents on both sides of the issue I think it behooves us to have all of the information,” he said. “Or at least have a process complete before us before we jump into one side or another of an argument.”
Brunswick town councilors voted 8-1 July 16 to spend $75,000 in available tax increment finance revenues to fund a site evaluation and a preliminary design for a parking garage downtown.