Brunswick councilors weigh alternative to fireworks ban; OK Navy housing plan

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BRUNSWICK — Fans and foes of a proposed fireworks ban made their points to the Town Council on Monday, but councilors delayed a vote while they consider enacting restrictions instead of an outright ban.

The council also voted 7-1 to approve a disposition plan for former U.S. Navy housing.

That move will allow the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority to proceed with the sale of the land beneath the homes to Auburn developer George Schott, who bought the buildings last fall, pending approval of the plan by Topsham’s Board of Selectmen on Dec. 15.

Fireworks

Monday’s public hearing brought out both sides of the debate over whether to allow the sale and use of consumer fireworks in Brunswick.

A state law legalizing consumer fireworks takes effect Jan. 1, 2012, but municipalities are allowed to enact local restrictions. The Bath City Council approved the first reading of a fireworks ban Wednesday night. The Topsham and Harpswell boards of selectmen are both scheduled to discuss bans on Dec. 15; both towns have community opinion polls on their websites.

Freeport, Portland, South Portland, Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth have already banned fireworks, while Scarborough, Gray and Westbrook have allowed them.

Pyrotechnic proponent Randy Dumont criticized what he called the expansion of “the nanny state,” and encouraged councilors to think of the economic benefit of fireworks stores opening in Brunswick.

“There are going to be fireworks sold, so why not have it in your community, regulated and legal,” he said.

Hunter Johnson asked the council to let Brunswick residents prove they can use fireworks safely before banning the sale and use.

But Sue O’Dell cited figures on property and bodily damage resulting from fireworks, and, like two other residents who spoke, asked the council to ban them.

Jim Chase criticized the council for waiting until what he called the “11th hour, 10 minutes before the bill becomes law,” before considering a fireworks ban.

Picking up on the sense of urgency, Councilor Ben Tucker, who introduced the proposed ban, also encouraged the council to act.

“We’re up against a deadline, the state law will allow the sale and use of fireworks in Brunswick starting in January. If we don’t act tonight then that could kick in,” Tucker said.

But other councilors wanted more time to consider amending the proposed ordinance to require residents to get a permit from the Fire Department to use fireworks, similar to a burn permit.

The amendment, which was not published on the town’s website prior to the meeting, was proposed by Councilor Gerald Favreau, who said fireworks would be limited to rural areas in town.

In order to give everyone more time to consider the amendment, councilors voted to table the item until their Dec. 19 meeting.

Former Navy housing

Before proceeding with the agreement that will give Schott the land beneath the former Navy housing units, MRRA had asked both Brunswick and Topsham to endorse the plan.

But Brunswick councilors were uncomfortable with that because they believed they had little control over the plan. They delayed the vote until Monday.

In the interim, town staff drafted a new resolution that offered support for the community goals expressed in the housing disposition plan.

The new language satisfied all councilors but one, Benet Pols, who voted against adopting the resolution.

On Tuesday Pols said he was concerned that the recommendations of a 2009 MRRA housing study were being abandoned to expedite the agreement with Schott.

“The same skepticism I had about it then still exists,” he said. “All the semantic changes they made to the question of endorsing it didn’t really do anything for me.”

Scott Howard, a consultant for Schott, said Tuesday that he was very pleased with the council’s support and hopes Topsham’s Board of Selectmen would do the same thing at their Dec. 15 meeting.

Once the agreement is signed, Schott would be able to put 19 of the homes in the McKeen Street development on the market – probably before early spring. Those homes, which all face McKeen Street, are already connected to the town’s utilities.

The rest of the homes are on sewer and water lines that are owned by MRRA and must be upgraded before they can be sold, Howard said.

Howard reiterated Schott’s intent to sell the homes in phases, rather than putting them all on the market at the same time.

“We’re going to see what the market demands are,” he said, before trying to sell any more than the initial 19 homes.

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

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