'Full speed ahead' for CEI building in Brunswick

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BRUNSWICK — Final plans for the Coastal Enterprises headquarters on Federal Street received unanimous Planning Board approval Tuesday, putting the project on track to break ground this summer. 

The nonprofit finance company plans to demolish the former town office and recreation center buildings on Federal Street and build a two-story, 10,800-square-foot headquarters.

John Egan, CEI’s director of housing development, said Wednesday the company was ready to go “full speed ahead” with the project as soon as it finalizes the $300,000 purchase of the two buildings from the town. 

The company hopes to be able to begin removing hazardous materials like lead paint and asbestos tiles from the buildings within the next two weeks, in advance of demolition in early July, Egan said. 

Construction of the building is expected to take 10 months, and CEI’s 70 employees, now in three offices in Wiscasset and Portland, may be ready to move in by next spring.

Tuesday’s approval was the final hurdle in a four-month review process.

Town Planner Jeremy Doxsee told Planning Board members that extensive review by town staff and the Planning and Village Review boards convinced him the project has been “very well vetted.”

Full approval is still pending, while the project’s lighting and landscaping plans are reviewed by the town engineer and arborist. 

David Latulippe, a representative from Topsham-based developer Priority Real Estate Group, told Planning Board members the process was “wonderful” and celebrated the “extensive community effort” put into the project.

Aside from aesthetic tweaks, the building’s footprint has changed very little from the plans submitted to the Planning Board in January.

The final sketches include a Federal Street entrance and an exterior design that features a mix of brick and clapboard siding, chosen to mesh with surrounding buildings in the historic downtown district.  

Architects further amended the structure’s design to give it the appearance of several connected buildings, similar to the brick storefronts lining nearby Maine Street. 

Developers also intend to preserve about a dozen mature hardwoods on the property and will add a smaller number of disease-resistant American elm trees, said Will Conway, from the Sebago Technics engineering firm.

Some aspects of the project still irked Town Councilor Jane Millett, who represents part of downtown Brunswick.

Aside from her contention that CEI’s use of an existing side parking lot contradicts the town’s zoning ordinance, Millett also questioned a “misalignment” between the standards overseen by the Village Review Board, charged with preserving the appearance of Brunswick’s downtown, and those enforced by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. 

“I think CEI has conformed to the expectations of the ordinance, but the ordinance does not align with the guidelines or requirements of the historic district,” Millett said. “I think that’s a really important inconsistency and I think it’s something we need to work on.” 

Solar Array

The board Tuesday also unanimously approved plans for a ground-based solar power array on 114 acres of the formal Brunswick Naval Air Station owned by Bowdoin College. 

SolarCity, a national solar energy company, has a 20-year contract to build the system and provide electricity to Bowdoin College.

The panels will be connected to two other solar arrays on the roofs of Bowdoin buildings. The project is expected to generate 1.3 megawatts, or 8 percent of Bowdoin’s total current energy use.

In response to concern about possible safety issues from board member Margret Wilson, SolarCity projecdt manager Matt Gitt said the station will be protected by a six-foot chain link fence and posed very little risk to the public. 

“You’d really have to go in with malicious intent and no know what you’re doing,” to get electrocuted at the station, Gitt said. 

According to Bowdoin Senior Vice President Catherine Longley, the college and SolarCity plan to lobby the Town Council to reduce the mandatory 30-day waiting period so they can break ground on the project in mid-June.

The parties hope to have the system up and running by August. 

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.

Sidebar Elements

A rendering of the proposed CEI headquarters in Brunswick, viewed from Federal Street, top, and Maine Street, bottom. 

Brunswick political sign ordinance ‘unconstitutional’

BRUNSWICK — The Town Council is expected to discuss proposed changes to the town’s ordinance regulating political signs, in order to avoid possible future litigation.

Planning Board members accepted changes to the town’s zoning ordinance at its meeting Tuesday, sending the issue on to the Council.

The current ordinance prevents residents from erecting political signs more than 60 days before an election. 

Some residents, like Michelle Small, who spoke at Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting, contend that the rule is a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech.

The ordinance is “unconstitutional on its face,” Small said, reminding the board that Alfred, Lewiston and Farmington all pledged not to enforce similar ordinances after the American Civil Liberties Union warned them about the ordinances in 2012. 

In a April 28 letter to Town Council Chairman Benet Pols, Town Attorney Stephen E. Langsdorf agreed the town’s rule is unconstitutional, citing several federal court decisions that struck down similar municipal restrictions. 

Planning Board members agreed to approve changes to the town’s zoning ordinance to strike any reference to time limits for signs prior to an election. They also suggested language to the Town Council that would extend the time to take down signs after an election from five to 10 days. 

— Peter L. McGuire