BRUNSWICK — The Planning Board Tuesday unanimously approved the design and landscaping plan for a 60-room inn included in the $23 million Maine Street Station development.
JHR Development, which considers the inn the centerpiece of the project, had originally proposed an 80-room structure at the corner of Maine and Noble streets. It had also hoped to build the inn during the first phase of construction.
But it pushed the inn to the second phase in response to the Planning Board’s concerns last year about the inn’s size and architectural integration into the surrounding landscape.
JHR has also been seeking an investor or management partner for the inn. Last month project manager Mike Lyne said the search was continuing; on Wednesday, he declined to discuss the effort.
It’s also unclear if the Planning Board’s approval of the inn is good for two years from Tuesday’s decision, or from last year’s ratification of the overall site plan for Maine Street Station. The difference could be significant if JHR abandons elements of the project because of financing constraints.
JHR’s Hilary Rockett in June warned of that possibility last month in a letter to Gov. John Baldacci lobbying for the extension of Amtrak Downeaster service. The Downeaster, Rockett wrote, may determine if some elements of Maine Street Station are completed.
Planning and Development Director Anna Breinich said Wednesday that she believes the inn approval is good for two years from Tuesday’s Planning Board decision because it was a modification of the original plan.
Tuesday’s action followed input from the town’s Village Review Board, the Pejepscot Historical Society and the Maine Historical Preservation Commission. While the inn is not within the town’s historical district, JHR agreed to hear suggestions from the three groups in hope of easing concerns that the building would either dwarf the First Parish Church across the street, or that its design wouldn’t mesh with surrounding buildings.
Such fears were not expressed during Tuesday’s public hearing, leading Vice Chairwoman Margaret Wilson to suggest that they were sufficiently vetted during previous meetings.
Board member Dana Totman said the new inn design is in keeping with the surroundings and perhaps more modest than the adjacent buildings that used to be on the Maine Street Station site.
“I think (the inn) is a great step back in history,” Totman said. “I think it will be a great addition to our town.”
The only remaining issue centered on the preservation of an old beech tree near the site. However, according to town arborist Peter Baecher, the only way to save the tree is to deny approval of the inn. The tree’s root structure, he said, has spread deep into the site and probably wouldn’t survive the construction or subsequent laying of asphalt.
Board member Steve Walker said that although saving the tree wasn’t a condition of the inn’s approval, he said the board should be more vigilant to protect old trees in the future because they have become part of the town’s aesthetic fabric and often “frame the architecture we put out there.”