Brunswick board backs zoning change for Bowdoin College residence hall
BRUNSWICK — The Planning Board recommended a zoning change Tuesday that would allow Bowdoin College to open a residence hall on Harpswell Road.
The vote was 4-1 on the plan that has some nearby residents concerned.
"I believe that this could be the final nail in the coffin for the Longfellow neighborhood," said Reed Bartlett, who lives near Bowdoin's proposed residence hall. "I hope when this goes back to the Town Council it gets the attention it deserves."
Bartlett, a longtime resident of Harpswell Place, was one of the few residents who addressed the board, and one of only two clearly opposed to Bowdoin's plan.
All of the residents who spoke said they live near the proposed residence hall property at 52 Harpswell Road, a former retirement home.
S. Catherine Longley, senior vice president for finance and administration and treasurer at Bowdoin, said on Wednesday that the college will continue to work with the neighbors to address their concerns.
"We work with neighbors on issues of lighting and noise, and the (retirement home) project will be no exception to that," Longley said. "We look forward to going back to the Planning Board and presenting the plans when they are available."
Brunswick Director of Planning Anna Breinich said the intent of college is to include residence halls as a permitted use in the Mixed Use 3 zone. Approval of the change could happen as soon as the Town Council's April 1 meeting.
Under the current zoning ordinance, Breinich outlined in a memo prepared for Tuesday night, the building can be used as a boarding house, but not a college residence hall.
Longley said Bowdoin's use of the former retirement home would allow the college to place more students on college-owned property. She said up to 30 students could live there.
In addition, Longley said Bowdoin's director of student life is considering making the proposed residence hall a chemical-free zone, which means no alcohol could be consumed on the premises. She said chemical-free zones are typically more quiet than other areas.
Some residents expressed concerns about noise, lighting and the possibility of students walking through their yards.
For Bartlett, Bowdoin's latest move is part of a larger saga that has pitted the neighborhood against the college over development issues for15 years.
"The college has been waiting for the town and neighborhood to forget what has happened in the past," he said after the meeting.
Michael Kolster, a Bowdoin employee who lives near the proposed residence hall, said he shares the same concerns as his neighbors, but thinks the zoning change could prevent a less desirable owner from taking the building.
"One of the things that concerns me in the middle of this is for Bowdoin College to pass on this particular property as a result of not getting this permitted use, then I begin to wonder 'who else will come in to fill the gap?" Kolster said. "... I fear a little bit for my neighborhood on the other side of the issue as well."
Planning Board member Steve Walker, who opposed the zoning change, said he encourages Bowdoin to reuse the former retirement home, but he's concerned about an across-the-board zoning change.