Harpswell panel solicits input on Mitchell Field businesses

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HARPSWELL — For some residents, one of the biggest problems with Mitchell Field is that there’s no business there.

On Wednesday, April 7, residents harboring that opinion – and probably a few that don’t – will get a chance to say what kind of businesses should be allowed at the 119-acre former U.S. Navy fuel depot.

The public forum, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Harpswell Islands School, will focus on the nine acres in the Mitchell Field Master Plan set aside for marine-related industry.

The area is split into two zones, one for businesses requiring waterfront and direct deep-water access, the other for smaller companies that could provide marine-related support services.

According to Town Planner Carol Tukey, the area is zoned for residential use, which means residents would likely have to pass new zoning ordinances at the 2011 Town Meeting before businesses could be allowed.

Tukey said the April 7 public forum will be the first of four over the next several months to determine what type of businesses the public wants at Mitchell Field.

The forum will be hosted by the Mitchell Field Implementation Committee, which is carrying out the recommendations of the facility’s master reuse plan, a document ratified by voters in 2007.

Although the plan includes nine acres for marine-related industry on the northern side of Mitchell Field, it is silent on the zoning and performance standards for potential uses. Tukey said the committee had been discussing the issue, and hopes the public will weigh in with recommendations.

In the past, economic development at Mitchell Field has divided residents between those who want more industry and an expanded tax base and those who prefer uses with a smaller impact.

In 2007, the 5-acre waterfront portion of Mitchell Field was targeted by Washburn & Doughty, an East Boothbay shipbuilder with expansion plans.

Although the town and the company engaged in preliminary lease negotiations, Washburn & Doughty ultimately pulled out of the deal, citing resistance from some residents and town leaders.

Some residents were dismayed by Washburn & Doughty’s decision, while others were worried a hastily arranged proposal would preempt the process stipulated in the reuse plan.

These days, Tukey said, business inquiries about Mitchell Field are sporadic and vague.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net