BRUNSWICK — Frustrated by past bickering and motivated by dire budget forecasts, the Town Council on Monday appeared eager to pursue a unified vision for future economic development.
It remains to be seen if Monday’s workshop session laid the groundwork for consensus on development matters. However, most councilors seemed willing to shift previously immovable ideologies toward a compromise.
The latter, some argued, is a prerequisite to hiring a new economic development director or embarking on future projects. The town is expected to begin its search for an economic development chief soon. Mat Eddy, the former director, stepped down in December.
“It’s obvious we need to do something,” interim Town Manager Gary Brown said. “We need to work to identify our vision for economic development so we can match (the new director’s) skill set.”
Brown’s comments initiated an earnest but civil discussion.
Some councilors addressed what they believed were root causes for the council’s prior inability to forward any meaningful development projects. Some pointed to a controversial Walgreens proposal that used town resources despite marginal council support as emblematic of the council’s past futility.
“The fundamental brouhaha that engaged the last council centered on an effort to put a square peg in a round hole and hammering it until it went in,” Vice Chairman Benet Pols said.
He added that the town’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan update offered sound guiding principles for future economic development.
“It’s a really good plan,” Pols said. “We just need to read it periodically.”
Other councilors added that the council should engage development proposals that appeal to a broad consensus.
“I know from experience that it’s an exercise in futility trying to bring businesses here that are not accepted by the community,” said at-large Councilor Joanne King, who supported the Walgreens development.
King later acknowledged that a unanimous approach to economic development is difficult, adding “there’s always opposition to something.”
“We are elected to make decisions … to provide for the town the best we can,” she said, adding sometimes that means supporting unpopular proposals.
“We need to have the nerve to support it and not abandon it halfway,” King said.
Councilor David Watson said the council shouldn’t abandon infrastructure improvements that could open up areas of town to economic development. Watson referred to a potentially contentious proposal that would connect Church Road and Stanwood Street, allowing potential development of a business park near the adjacent railroad tracks.
Watson also suggested a marketing campaign to attract visitors to Brunswick.
Councilor Ben Tucker agreed that the town should embark on infrastructure improvements, but said it should also work to obtain federal funding from President Barack Obama’s proposed stimulus package. He said road improvements should mesh with those proposed by state planners and the redevelopers of Brunswick Naval Air Station.
Tucker also said a future development director should report directly to the town manager and be able to “talk straight” about the pros and cons about a particular project.
Meanwhile, members of the local business community urged the council to find a director who would pursue businesses that attract jobs.
Brunswick Economic Development Corp. President Mike Ouellet said the town’s economic development department was too short-staffed even when Eddy was there.
Ouellet, whose appeal for business attraction doubled with a strident defense the BEDC, said Brunswick is in competition with other communities. He urged the development of a new business park and BEDC integration with the authority overseeing the redevelopment of BNAS.
Ouellet’s comments about town representation on the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority were followed by similar remarks from Rob Jarrett, president of the Brunswick Downtown Association and a former member of the Brunswick Local Redevelopment Authority, the MRRA’s predecessor.
“Clearly Brunswick is affected the most,” Jarratt said, arguing that MRRA should have more local representation.
Several councilors were encouraged by the work session.
“I don’t see any major differences (of opinion),” Council Chairwoman Hallie Daughtry said.