BRUNSWICK — The planned location for a new police station – “the worst-kept secret in town” – got an exhaustive airing at Monday night’s Town Council meeting.
The nearly 90-minute discussion was in response to a petition drive launched by a former city councilor, Karen Klatt. The petition seeks to overrule the council’s Sept. 20 approval of a $1.175 million bond package to buy four contiguous lots on the corner of Pleasant and Stanwood Streets.
At the core of the issue is the council’s decision not to include wording in the bond measure that purchase of the proposed 1.61-acre site is for the construction of a new two-story police station. That purpose was however, discussed by the council in open session at four previous meetings, including a public hearing held prior to the approval of the bond measure.
Chairwoman Joanne King said Monday night’s discussion was an attempt to lay to rest any lingering doubts as to what the land was being bought for and to address why other locations, including the former Times Record building, were rejected.
In reviewing the history, Town Manger Gary Brown said the town-owned Times Record building on Industry Road was looked at and rejected twice as a police station site, most recently in 2009 on the recommendation of a subcommittee made up of King and Councilors David Watson and Benjamin Tucker.
The reasons for the rejection were the costs of renovations, estimated at more than $5 million, a location deemed too far from downtown, and accessibility. Four other potential police station sites were considered, including the one at Pleasant and Stanwood.
Brown noted the initial negotiations for the Pleasant/Stanwood properties proved unsuccessful after options on three properties were considered too high. The council later returned to the site after another location was found to cost even more. The second time around, Brown said, the town was able to negotiate a better deal at Pleasant and Stanwood that included adding a fourth lot to the purchase.
The town manager said the current assessed values for the Pleasant Stanwood lots, including land and buildings, totals almost $499,000. Applying current ratio results in a market value of more than $804,000, the initial amounts for the properties totaled $1.2 million. He said the town settled on an agreed total purchase price of just over $1 million.
Brown said the former Times Record building was reviewed again and again. “Every council has come up with the same conclusion,” he said. “The building itself is not suitable and the location leaves a great deal to be desired.”
As the discussion drifted back to the Pleasant and Stanwood purchase, Councilor Suzan Wilson, of District 3, said from the beginning the council had been very transparent in its discussions for use of that property. She called it the “worst-kept secret in town” since everybody seemed to know about it.
District 4 Councilor John Perreault said he understood people’s right to petition, but wished they had come to the council sooner with their concerns.
Addressing why appraisals weren’t done of the properties, the town manager said the council elected not to do them because getting appraisals wouldn’t have changed the negotiated prices.
Testimony was heard from an equal number of supporters and opponents.
Fred Blanchard of 638 Harpswell Road said the council had given up too easily on finding a site at Brunswick Naval Air Station, which would have saved the town the expense of purchasing privately owned property. King said the U.S. Navy denied that request.
Vicki Marr of 34 Cumberland St. spoke in favor of the council’s choice of Pleasant and Stanwood, saying it fits in with the town’s comprehensive planning and would serve as a community bridge between a residential area and downtown.
John Donovan of 11 McKeen St., one of the five residents who filed the paperwork to initiate the petition effort, said those in opposition weren’t opposed to providing the town with a Class A police facility.
Donovan compared the petition effort to “legislating with a sledge hammer,” but said it was necessary in this case. “I urge you to vote to clarify the language … and reconsider the expenditures,” he said.
Kathy Wilson of 144 Pleasant St., said the council made the best selection. She said it was “hilarious” to even think of using the former Times Record building.
“You might as well bulldoze it and start over like you did with the high school,” she said. Wilson said it was unfair for a petition to come out now. “It puts another snag in the process …,” she said. “They could have been here arguing the point before.”
Klatt, who resides at 32 Moody Road, said she and the others aren’t against providing police with a new police station. She said her main concern is that the land acquisition ordinance contained no language saying the purchase was for a police station. She called it both vague and very broad.
“If I were one of the police officers that has to work in (the existing) dungeon, I would want to know why it doesn’t have the words ‘new police station’ in that ordinance,” she said.
Klatt also said an expenditure of that amount, be it for a police station or something else, should be put before voters for their approval.
District 7 Councilor Benet Pols, who dissented on the land acquisition, said one way to insure you’ll get a lot of phone calls from people is to be on the short end of an 8-1 vote.
Pols explained his initial concern with the plan was going at it piecemeal. He said agreed a new police station is needed and fully supports the Pleasant-Stanwood location.
“When we go to bond for the bigger piece of the pie (construction of the police station), we’ll be back going through this again,” he said. Pols thought a better approach would have been to get an idea as to the entire cost of the police station including its design and construction.
Monday’s vote was 8-1 with Pols again opposed. The resolution states that the ordinance adopted on Sept. 20 “authorizing acquisition of land and authorizing issuance of bonds and notes in an amount not to exceed $1,175,000” is to be the location for a new police station.