MRRA loses bid for Brunswick base housing, eyes land
BRUNSWICK — Spurned in its attempt to acquire the 702 military housing units that will be vacated with the 2011 closing of Brunswick Naval Air Station, the authority implementing the reuse plan for the base has vowed to obtain the land beneath the homes.
And if it does, Executive Director Steve Levesque said Tuesday, the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority will require that the still-undisclosed housing buyer adhere to the development guidelines of the master reuse plan.
"We're still going to try and acquire the land," Levesque told the MRRA board of directors Tuesday. "And we'll insist on development agreements to meet the community's objectives."
Levesque's comments followed last week's announcement by the current housing owner that it had chosen a "potential local buyer" over the MRRA's bid. MRRA had hoped to obtain the housing to ensure that the homes are disposed of in accordance with the redevelopment plan and to ease impact on the local real estate market.
But Northeast Housing LLC – a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based Balfour Beatty Communities LLC and the Department of the Navy – announced that it reached an agreement in principle with a different buyer. Joseph Crivelli, a spokesman for Northeast Housing, declined to identify the buyer or discuss if its offer was significantly more than MRRA's. Crivelli said that the buyer had "other interests in Brunswick," adding that it would be identified once a formal agreement is reached in the next 90 to 180 days.
While there's been a lot of speculation about the buyer, it's unclear if its interests dovetail with the master reuse plan, a document created after more than a year of community outreach and meetings with state and local officials.
Mark Lavin, now with Balfour Beatty, but formerly affiliated with GMH Military Housing – the military property's former owner – in 2007 attended a housing seminar at Brunswick High School to discuss the housing situation. Lavin assured residents that GMH wouldn't "throw the keys over its shoulder" and "dump" the housing on the community.
Lavin repeated that statement in December when Balfour Beatty shocked MRRA and local officials with its decision to begin marketing the properties.
But Lavin's assurances have been met with skepticism by some residents, and now, by local officials.
On Tuesday, Levesque told MRRA board members that it seemed "somewhat strange" that the mystery buyer had not approached him or town officials in Brunswick and Topsham to discuss its plans for the property.
Asked later to elaborate on his comments, Levesque said, "It's just odd. They don't have to (talk to us). But I found it interesting that (Balfour Beatty) believes the buyer will work with (the reuse plan), yet to my knowledge, they haven't talked to anyone about it."
Levesque admitted that it was possible the buyer had talked to MRRA, but hadn't made its intentions clear.
Crivelli said Wednesday that he did not know if the buyer is familiar with the reuse plan, or if it had contacted local officials to discuss it.
Given the uncertainty, Levesque said MRRA hopes to obtain the land beneath the military units, currently owned by the U.S. Navy.
BNAS is the first Base Realignment and Closure facility where the military housing and the land have two different owners.
Rules of the 2005 BRAC program require the departing military services to sell base land and assets at fair market value. In Brunswick that means the Navy – and the market – could determine when property is sold and to whom.
MRRA hopes the Navy will give up the land through a no-cost economic development conveyance. The BRAC requirement reduces the prospect of economic development conveyances, particularly given that the process has exceeded original estimates by $32.4 billion, according to reports from the Government Accountability Office.
However, Levesque is hopeful that a bill sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, will get a favorable reception from Congress. The Defense Communities Act of 2009 would remove the Department of Defense mandate to seek fair market value for base property.
Snowe, In a recent press release, said removing the mandate would encourage the DOD to accept more economic development conveyances.
The bill is Snowe's second attempt to promote economic development conveyances. In 2005 she introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2006 that would have required the DOD to convey all base properties at no cost if requested by the corresponding redevelopment authority.
Opponents argued the amendment would have limited the DOD's options for disposing of military property, and by extension, its ability to get paid for them.
The bill, which also impacts active base communities, in March was referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, serves on that committee.