BRUNSWICK — After receiving public scrutiny over Federal Street’s changing character, the Planning Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a sketch plan for Wiscasset-based Coastal Enterprises’ proposed downtown headquarters.
The board also unanimously recommended to the Town Council an ordinance change that would allow the panel to act on behalf of the Village Review Board if the VRB cannot achieve a quorum.
The council is expected to hold a public hearing on the ordinance change at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 3. The change was proposed before the VRB appointed two new members last week.
CEI’s plan to replace the current Town Hall and former Recreation Center at 28 and 30 Federal St. with a two-story, nearly 22,000 square-foot building was revealed in a sketch plan Tuesday night.
While the Planning Board offered only a few suggestions, several residents during a 30-minute public comment session welcomed CEI and its plan to add about 65 employees downtown.
But they also scrutinized CEI’s building and how it could potentially change the historic character of Federal Street, which falls within the jurisdiction of the town’s Village Review Zone administered by the Village Review Board.
George Glover, owner of the nearby Tondreau block on Maine Street, called the building “disharmonious” to surrounding buildings on Federal Street and asked CEI to consider dividing the structure into two smaller buildings.
He said “helping preserve the rhythm of Federal Street would be appreciated by many people.”
Betty Leonard, a resident who recently moved back to town, said the building “seems terribly out of character” and expressed concerns that Brunswick could become “the ugliest town in Maine.”
“What is this building going to be like,” she said, “and what is it going to do to lower Federal Street?
Art Boulay, who lives across from CEI’s proposed building, offered a more positive take.
He said “welcoming CEI is no-brainer” and that he looks “forward to looking out my window and seeing a well-designed building … instead of what I look at now: a solid brick wall that is two stories high, capped with the ugliest roof you can imagine. … Knowing that it’s being built by an organization like CEI gives me some confidence that it’s going to be well-built and well-maintained.”
Before the public comment session began, David LaTulippe of Priority Real Estate Group said CEI is working with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to ensure the proposed building’s design meets Village Review Board standards and keeps in character with the rest of the neighborhood.
A rendering of the building wasn’t available Tuesday night because it was not required for the sketch plan review.
But LaTulippe said a rendering will be presented to the Village Review Board for consideration of its design standards, and later to the Planning Board for consideration of its final plan.
During the presentation of the sketch plan, LaTulippe noted that the only entrances to the building will be via a parking lot that can be accessed from Center and Bank streets, which run perpendicular to Federal Street.
Former Town Councilor Marybeth Burbank, who last year criticized the Town Council for agreeing to sell the former Recreation Center, said CEI should consider having an entrance on Federal Street.
“Every house on Federal Street has a door, a doorway, a sidewalk, a welcome from the street to the house,” she said, “and I would just like to say emphatically that I would want CEI to put out the same welcome mat.”
CEI’s plan to consolidate its Wiscasset and Portland offices in Brunswick was announced last spring.
The news was accompanied by the revelation that the town was planning to sell the Recreation Center property to the Brunswick Development Corp., which was already set to receive the Town Hall property under a separate agreement, for the purpose of selling both properties to CEI.
At the time, several residents criticized the council’s plan to sell the centrally located Recreation Center and move its recreation facility to a former U.S. Navy field house at Brunswick Landing, a plan that had been discussed by councilors in previous years.
In August, the town sold the Recreation Center property to BDC for $225,000. Around the same time, BDC signed an option to sell the Recreation Center and Town Hall properties to CEI for $300,000. The town reopened its recreation facilities a few months later at the former naval building at 220 Neptune Drive.
Pending final approval by CEI’s board, the property transactions between the town and BDC, and BDC and CEI, are expected to simultaneously close by April 1.
CEI is then expected to demolish the existing town buildings and begin construction of its headquarters. It expects to occupy the new building in the first half of 2015.
A sketch plan of Coastal Enterprises’ proposed headquarters in downtown Brunswick. The two-story, nearly 22,000-square-foot building would replace the Town Hall and former Recreation Center on Federal Street.