Council nixes bid to block a business expansion permit
BRUNSWICK — The Town Council could be holding its meetings at Maine Street Station by September after a 7-1 decision Tuesday to enter a five-year lease agreement with Bowdoin College.
The lease will begin upon construction of Building 3 of the $23 million project, a development in which the town has already committed at least $2 million in infrastructure costs.
In the agreement, the town will pay Bowdoin approximately $37,700 over five years for rent, plus build-out costs and operating expenses. The town will also pay taxes on the property.
Interim Town Manager Gary Brown said original build-out estimates to put council chambers and CATV 3 in the building were about $60,000. Brown said the estimate was probably a lot higher than what the actual costs would be.
The town will occupy the entire the second floor of the building. Bowdoin College last fall agreed to lease the entire building from JHR Development, the town’s partner in Maine Street Station.
Some councilors on Monday acknowledged that residents would question the wisdom of becoming a tenant in a town-financed project. However, several said the measure was the most cost-effective way to solve a facilities problem that has dogged the council ever since the town voted to build a new elementary school on McKeen Street, the council’s current home.
Residents last June approved the new $28.5 million school and more than $3 million in extras that included meeting space. However, a council subcommittee studying town facilities ruled out using the new school for Council Chambers because it would’ve been inadequate for the volume of use.
The subcommittee explored other locations, including Hawthorne Elementary School, the School Department’s current Union Street location and additions to the Town Hall. However, Brown said, they were deemed too costly.
Under the lease agreement with Bowdoin, the town could pay between $70,000 and $100,000 for a temporary home. The town will incur an additional $10,000 to move into the building it owns on Industry Road. The council and CATV 3 will likely move to Industry Road in April following the razing of the old high school on McKeen Street.
Brown said the subcommittee ruled out remaining on Industry Road because the town is attempting to sell the building.
In his presentation to the council, Brown said the Bowdoin lease would amount to annual net savings of $121,000. Brown based the savings on the $200,000 the town spends annually to maintain the McKeen meeting facility.
The majority of the council backed the recommendation.
“We’ve been looking high and low to solve this problem,” Councilor Gerald Favreau said. “This will buy us time for the next five years and we’ll actually be saving money.”
Councilor Karen Klatt was the lone opponent of the lease.
“I can’t support spending between $70,000 and $90,000 for something that’s not permanent,” Klatt said.
“It also seems strange that we gave away (the land for Maine Street Station) and now we’ll be paying taxes on it,” she added.
Later in the meeting, Klatt found herself at odds with the rest of council after proposing to exercise jurisdiction over a recent Planning Board decision to grant a special permit for Bernie’s Repair Plus Outdoor Power Equipment on Merrymeeting Lane.
The small engine business is owned by Bernard Coombs, who along with the town, had previously been involved in an extended lawsuit with his neighbors, Victor and Cathy Eastman.
Although the suit was settled last year, the dispute between Coombs and the Eastmans has continued to permeate town business and generate e-mail correspondence to the council, the Police Department, the codes office and the planning office.
Much of the correspondence has been generated by Klatt, who has taken up the Eastman’s argument that Coombs’ business causes visual blight and threatens groundwater.
On Tuesday, Klatt rejected other councilor’s arguments that the council was wrongfully engaging in a neighborhood feud.
She said the issue was about public safety.
Klatt presented 89 pages of documents dating to 1992 that she said showed Coombs had operated a non-permitted business in the town’s Aquifer Protection Zone.
But on Jan. 27 the Planning Board unanimously approved Coombs’ special permit to expand his business. Board members argued the expansion would mitigate both the business’s current visual blight and fuel issues and offer more protection than grandfathering, which would allow Coombs’ business to continue operating.
Klatt said Coombs had previously demonstrated an unwillingness to follow town ordinances, adding that the town had no assurances he would comply with the special permit regulations.
Vice Chairman Benet Pols seconded Klatt’s motion to exercise jurisdiction over the Planning Board decision. However, Pols, a former Planning Board member, said the council should show deference to the board’s decision.
Pols argued that Coombs’ business could legally continue to operate as it does now. He said the special permit would rectify those problems.
“If I’d been on the Planning Board, I would’ve joined the other members in supporting this,” Pols said.
Following a successful motion to move the question and end debate, the council voted 7-1 to defeat Klatt’s proposal.