Planning Board concerns delay action on proposed Brunswick subdivision

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BRUNSWICK — A proposed 17-unit subdivision in a residential area near downtown was tabled Tuesday by the Planning Board because of questions about the viability and design of the project. 

Brunswick-based Coastal Building Investments is proposing to divide a 7.5-acre parcel bordered by Barrows Street, Columbia Avenue, and Spring Street into residential sites, with a 965-foot private drive and other improvements. 

A condominium complex proposed for the property by the same developer was approved in 2006, but was scuttled because of the economic downturn.

Tom Cole, a Realtor representing landowner Robert Cole, said in an interview following the meeting that the improved housing market in Brunswick led his client to revise his proposal for single-family homes this time around. 

One home has already been constructed on the property.

Although it is one of the few undeveloped parcels in the dense residential area, there are several factors that make the subdivision problematic, including its road design and the wet, swampy nature of the land.

It is unclear whether the developer intends to build the site out as a single development, which would require a storm-water permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, or sell house lots individually, which does not require a state permit.

Board Chairman Charles Frizzle said he is “uncomfortable” allowing individual units without a plan to treat runoff, but admitted the board couldn’t force Coastal Building to construct a single development. 

Concerns over water went far further for four residents abutting the property. All said they have serious flooding during rainstorms and are concerned that stripping mature trees and adding impervious surfaces could exacerbate the issue. 

Several Columbia Avenue residents said they fear the weight of foundations and roads, along with the alteration of the landscape, could raise the water table and make the notoriously wet area even worse. 

In response, Curtis Neufeld, the engineer who designed the project, said a storm-water management plan would be designed for the subdivision that would deal with runoff from the site.

On the other hand, he acknowledged, there had been no study on how the combined weight of the project could impact existing groundwater levels. 

Other aspects about the proposal set off alarm bells for Planning Board members. 

Frizzle questioned the dead-end cul-de-sac road proposed, worrying it could hinder vehicles entering or leaving in the case of an emergency and did not reflect the grid road design of the surrounding neighborhood. 

Vice Chairwoman Margaret Wilson echoed concerns about the road, and also questioned the project’s build-out over three phases. 

“What happens if we get two phases done and the economy goes south?” she said, adding that it could leave the town with a dead-end road in the middle of the neighborhood.

The board’s concerns echoed those made by Town Engineer John Foster in comments about the project. 

Other concerns included whether sidewalks would be included, or if informal footpaths connecting the property to Crimmins Field next door would be preserved. 

The fact that the sketch plan, changed at the last minute to add a new road plan, left so many unanswered questions gave some board members the impression it was too incomplete to act on. 

“It does seem rushed to me,” said board member Richard Visser. 

Town Planner Jeremy Doxsee said staff had discussed pulling the item from the board’s agenda after seeing the changes that would be required, but decided to keep it on because notices to abutters had already be delivered.

Although the board declined to approve an early sketch plan for the subdivision, the developers will still be able to resubmit a final proposal to the Planning Department. 

After the meeting, Cole said he was confident that the concerns raised in the meeting could be addressed and the plan resubmitted.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.