Brunswick council OKs 1st phase of MRRA tax deal
Hearing set on Bowdoin College zoning request
BRUNSWICK — Nearly seven months after the Town Council terminated negotiations for a large tax deal with the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, it unanimously approved the first phase of a new one Monday night.
The council also deliberated over a zoning change request from Bowdoin College that has created concerns for some residents who live near a proposed college residence hall.
The first phase of the tax deal with MRRA entailed passing two tax increment financing districts – one for Brunswick Landing and one for Brunswick Executive Airport – that will benefit the town and redevelopment efforts at the former naval air station.
"The success of MRRA is vital to the town of Brunswick, but it's also vital to the region – Topsham, Bath, Harpswell, points north of us," Councilor David Watson said. "We are a larger community than the town of Brunswick and we're talking about job creation and the protecting of our communities."
Setting the two TIF districts will allow the town to capture new assessed value of the land, preventing an increase in Brunswick's county tax obligation and a decrease in state subsidies, Councilor John Richardson said earlier this month.
The TIF districts, which now must be approved by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, will also allow the town and MRRA to begin negotiating a credit enhancement agreement.
The second phase of the tax deal, if approved, could rebate MRRA a portion of its property taxes for infrastructure improvements. A failed deal with MRRA from last year would have rebated the redevelopment authority $12 million in tax revenue over 30 years.
Councilor Ben Tucker said the council plans to meet with MRRA April 4 to begin discussions over a credit enhancement agreement. Because discussions have yet to begin, the exact details of the agreement have not emerged.
Councilors and MRRA officials have said relations have improved since last September's termination of a TIF deal. At the time, local officials said the end of the deal was precipitated by the town's uncertainty over state activity that could have threatened local control of base redevelopment efforts.
Relations also became tense in January when DECD Commissioner George Gervais submitted a bill that councilors said would have also threatened local control.
Following the Planning Board's approval of zoning change requests from Bowdoin College and MRRA, the Town Council set public hearings for their final approval on April 1.
Bowdoin's request seeks to add residence halls as a permitted use in the Mixed Use 3 zone, so it can use a former retirement home on Harpswell Road as a residence hall – a plan that has had some resistance from some neighbors.
The council voted 7-2 to consider amending Bowdoin's request to require a special permit instead of adding residence halls as a permitted use in the zone, which would require more planning oversight by the town. The original request will still be considered.
Council Chairwoman Suzan Wilson and Councilor Jerry Favreau opposed the amendment.
Some of the councilors said they supported the amendment because it will open a greater discussion about the issue.
Meanwhile, other supporting councilors said they were concerned about how adding a residence hall as a permitted use could create unintended consequences for the surrounding neighborhood.
"If Bowdoin is willing to come back to the Planning Board, why not make it a special permitted use anyway?" said Councilor Sarah Brayman, who requested the amendment. "We are not just dealing with the (former retirement home) property but we are now expanding to the other side of Harpswell Road, and I would personally like to take that to be judicious and slow with that."
Brayman said the council can revisit the town's zoning ordinance in the future to better tie in residence halls for zone like Mixed Use 3.
MRRA's zoning change request will remove a restriction on professional office use from a few buildings that currently have impending business prospects.
Former Councilor Jackie Sartoris asked the council to amend the zoning request to include delineating an area of nearby natural habitat for conservation, but the council declined.
"I see this as a separate issue that we should move on tonight and set for a hearing on the other issue, so we can have it resolved once and for all," Richardson said.