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CEI's design for Brunswick HQ gets mixed reception

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CEI's design for Brunswick HQ gets mixed reception

BRUNSWICK — Coastal Enterprises' design for a new headquarters that will replace two Federal Street municipal buildings received a mixed reception Tuesday night in a Village Review Board preliminary hearing.

The pre-application allowed CEI to present design plans for its proposed two-story, nearly 22,000-square-foot building, and to receive feedback from board and community members before it submits any formal applications for review.

The nonprofit financial institution's plans to demolish the former town Recreation Center and soon-to-be former Town Hall at 30 and 28 Federal St., respectively, and to construct a new building in their place requires board approval because Federal Street falls within the town's Village Review Zone.

During Tuesday's meeting, CEI officials outlined the agency's vision for consolidating its Wiscasset and Portland offices in downtown Brunswick; the building's modern, eco-friendly design, and why it's compatible with Federal Street's historic character.

As proposed, the building would have a cement fiber exterior in two color tones, be set back 10 feet from Federal Street, and be accessed from a 65-space parking lot between Center and Bank streets, which are perpendicular to Federal Street.

The building would be horizontally divided into two connected structures that make its wide length appear more consistent with smaller buildings on Federal Street.

Benedict Walter, president of Portland-based CWS Architects, who is helping design the building, noted that the mass of the building will be 28 percent smaller than the combined volumes of the Rec Center and Town Hall buildings. 

"We're not trying to make a strong  statement that we're the big building on the block," he said. "... It's going to be just another structure that's set back and part of the neighborhood, and not very in your face."

But concerns about the size, modern design and color scheme were expressed by some board members, Federal Street residents, a businessman who owns apartments on Federal Street, and District 6 Town Councilor Jane Millett.

"I know that CEI wants to be a good neighbor," Millett said. "The appearance of this building in the context of Federal Street on the National Register of Historic Places does nothing to remind us of the history or the character of Federal Street and I would hope that could be remedied." 

A recent letter from Earle Shettleworth, president of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, which was asked by the Planning Department to advise on CEI's project, said the new building "is not compatible with the historic district in terms of size, scale, proportion, massing and materials."

Shettleworth said he was maintains his stance from a previous letter, where he provided several suggestions.

In response, CWS Architects said in a memo that "while the applicant agrees that the (MHPC’s) comments illustrate one of many appropriate redevelopment strategies, the ordinance as a whole allows and encourages other solutions."

Jonathan Shepherd, who grew up on Federal Street and now owns apartments there, referenced Shettleworth's letter and echoed his concerns: "I sense you're dismissing Earle's comments," he said. "He really needs to be listened to."

CEI's plan received a warmer reception from the executive director and three board members of the Brunswick Downtown Association; the president of Brunswick Development Corp., and a spokeswoman for Cool As A Moose on Maine Street, who said CEI will be a boon for economic development.

Before the meeting began, board Chairwoman Emily Swan recused herself and left the room because she said she holds a community investment note with CEI.

CEI's sketch plan for the property was approved by the Planning Board in January.

CEI has signed a purchase option to buy the two Federal Street properties for $300,000 from BDC, which is expected to receive the two properties under separate agreements with the town. The sale is expected to close in June.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.