Downtown demolition process faces Brunswick scrutiny

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BRUNSWICK — Changes could be coming to the downtown demolition-permit process at the Town Council’s Dec. 17 meeting.

The proposal before the council would provide an interim shift of authority from the Village Review Board to the Planning Board to grant demolition requests within the village review zone, a small historic area that covers most of downtown between Pleasant and Maine streets.

The review board would serve in an advisory role to the Planning Board.

Council Vice Chairman Ben Tucker on Tuesday said the change will temporarily address the frustration the review board has experienced in applying an ordinance that often seems unclear. He said this has caused problems and delays for businesses working on a tight schedule.

The ultimate goal of the interim change, Tucker said, would be to give the Planning Board time to revise the existing ordinance and determine who should have the final say on demolitions in the village review zone.

Tucker said he supports setting a deadline for new changes to be made. Otherwise, he said, the ability to grant demolition permits for the zone should shift back to the Village Review Zone automatically.

Although Tucker is co-sponsoring the measure with Council Chairwoman Joanne King, and with the support of the Planning Board and Village Review Board Chairwoman Emily Swan, other councilors don’t share the same view.

At their Dec. 3 meeting, councilors debated the merits of an interim change, whether a deadline should be set and which board should have ultimate power over issuing demolition permits.

“I don’t understand what else the Planning Board brings to this imperfect ordinance that makes it an improvement over what we already have,” Councilor Sarah Brayman said, questioning the need for an interim change to address the larger issue of changing the ordinance.

“We do bring a diverse set of eyes,” Planning Board Chairman Charlie Frizzle said, “and I think the council does a very good job when they appoint Planning Board members of seeing that there is a diversity of opinion.”

Tucker said Frizzle told him it could take up to a year to develop and revise the existing ordinance, so he proposed setting a deadline for them to do so.

Councilor Gerald Favreau said he opposes to the idea, because it would put too much pressure on the Planning Board. Frizzle said he agreed with Favreau, though he suggested there should be a six-month review process.

Councilor John Perreault said he’s not sure why an interim change is needed.

“I understand that some people in this town have been frustrated with a demolition process that has happened in the last year or two,” Perreault said. “But if I am not mistaken every project that has come up for demolition has been passed at the second meeting of the Village Review Board with proper information. I guess I’m not sure we’re feeling it’s such a needed drastic change at this moment. I would support rewriting the ordinance so it’s a much simplified thing, but why do we need to change seven sets of eyes?”

The public will have a chance to answer that question at the council’s next meeting. 

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.