BRUNSWICK — A new Town Council subcommittee will soon revisit one of last year’s most divisive issues: Pleasant Street, and what to do about it.
Traffic and aesthetic issues plaguing the town’s main travel artery and gateway are well-documented. But last year, ancillary development proposals – specifically a Walgreens drug store and a Church Road-Stanwood Street connection – widened the town’s ideological divide and proved politically treacherous for some councilors.
Now, with the council hinting at a willingness to compromise, a new subcommittee will begin studying potential design standards and traffic problems on outer Pleasant Street, as well as the viability of the Church-Stanwood connection and the Stanwood-Pleasant intersection, the site of the proposed Walgreens.
The five-councilor committee was proposed by Vice Chairman Benet Pols, who hoped the committee could generate a factual presentation to help councilors reach a consensus.
Pols said Monday that the town faces several issues on Pleasant Street and that the council and the public could benefit from some straight talk, including the costs and zoning impediments to proposed developments and the possibility of dovetailing the town’s desires with a recently approved state-commissioned traffic study.
The council unanimously approved Pols’ proposal, with some councilors expressing eagerness to resolve the issue.
The subcommittee will include Pols, At-large Councilor Joanne King, District 4 Councilor Karen Klatt, District 5 Councilor Gerald Favreau and At-large Councilor Debbie Atwood.
Councilor Margo Knight, whose downtown district includes inner Pleasant Street, will not be on the committee.
Last year Knight, who was often the swing vote on Walgreens-related proposals, was pulled in two directions by competing interest groups.
Knight’s husband is a member of the Brunswick Downtown Association, which supported the Walgreens project. The NorthWest Brunswick Neighborhood Association opposed the project.
After initially voting against a proposal that would have allowed the Walgreens store, Knight co-sponsored a motion in support of the project.
The latter vote prompted one NorthWest resident, Louise Rosen, to criticize Knight during a Dec. 1 meeting. Rosen also threatened to organize the neighborhood for a vote of no confidence in Knight.
On Monday, Knight, who sits on five different committees, including the Maine Street Station Oversight Committee, declined to participate in the new subcommittee.
“I’m reluctant to take on another committee,” she said, adding that she thought the committee is a good idea.
Other councilors on the subcommittee were anxious to get started. “I can’t possibly be more eager to support this,” Atwood said.
The council’s response was welcomed by Topsham developer Jim Howard of Priority Group LLC. Howard, who last summer introduced the Church-Stanwood
connection, said he was “pleasantly surprised the council is taking a proactive approach” to a proposal that could create a road parallel to Pleasant Street.
“I think (the road) is important, not only for traffic mitigation but for business development,” Howard said.
Howard acknowledged the negative reaction from some neighbors affected by the project, saying, “If somebody proposed a road through my house, I’d get excited, too.”
But Howard said much of the neighborhood backlash may have centered on a second plan drafted by the town and the Maine Department of Transportation, not the one he paid $10,000 for during his development of a Tim Horton’s restaurant.
Howard added that several businesses affected by the project support it, including Downeast Energy Corp., Knight’s Inn and Bodwell Chrsyler Dodge, which owns property at 127 Pleasant St.
Howard said a connecting road would create better access to those businesses and open up other development opportunities, including the possible creation of a business park on the adjacent Kilfoil property.
“I’m not building this road because it helps me,” he said. “This needs to be a project that the Town Council and (Brunswick Economic Development Corp.) sees the benefit. It may have been generated by me, but I’m turning it over to the town.”
“Whichever way they decide,” he said, “it needs to be good for everybody.”
The council subcommittee has yet to schedule any meetings. However, Pols proposed inviting all potential stakeholders, including Howard, neighbors and The Richmond Co., the developer behind the Walgreens project.