Potential coastal access point stirs Brunswick debate

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BRUNSWICK — The town has about 66 miles of shoreline, and less than a mile of it is accessible by the public.

So when Brunswick acquired a property on Mere Point Road due to unpaid taxes, some town councilors were eager to explore the potential for public access.

The Town Council’s finance committee on June 16 unanimously recommended placing a 60-day hold on the parcel to prevent anyone from buying it, so they could research whether it could become a new public access point.

But neighbors turned out in force at the council’s June 20 meeting to oppose the move. They say the lot is too small to support public use, too rocky and tidal for swimming, and would be put to better use if sold by the town for revenue.

Advocates for public use, on the other hand, argue that opportunities for increasing coastal access are rare, and should be supported on principle.

The council voted unanimously to take 60 days to vet the property’s potential. And, if Monday night’s meeting is any indication, the just over 4-acre lot will be the subject of much scrutiny.

The parcel

The town acquired the property at 946 Mere Point Road after the owner did not pay the property taxes. The parcel is primarily wooded, and also includes a dilapidated house.

At their June 6 meeting, councilors had a brief discussion about turning the parcel into a public access area before forwarding the question to the finance committee.

In the time since, councilors and town staff have been flooded with emails both supporting and opposing the project, according to Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman.

“I’ve heard all sorts of things,” she said Monday. “It’s unswimmable, it’s very swimmable, it’s better than Simpson’s Point, it’s worse than Simpson’s Point … I have no idea what is the case.”

Neighbors strongly oppose the idea that the lot could be a good public swimming or picnicking spot.

Arabella Strovink, of Wild Aster Lane, is a direct abutter to the parcel. She said she and her husband Karl would like the town to make it available for private sale.

The town should acquire “proceeds from the sale itself as well as ongoing tax revenue,” she said. In addition, “(the property) is pretty small for parking, and we think there will be a very dear burden on immediate neighbors,” she added.

The real estate website Zillow.com estimates the property is worth about $330,000.

Joan Sutcliffe, of Wild Aster Lane, who lives on the other side, argued that there were already nearby public access points, such as Mere Point Boat Launch.

The spot in question, she said, “has a high, steep rock face that drops directly into shallow water, and just beyond that are ledges … this would not be a great place to swim.”

She urged councilors to “be responsible” and sell the property instead of “needlessly developing another public access to the water.”

Heather Osterfeld, also of Wild Aster Lane, said a group of property owners are being told that a single-home property in their area “can suddenly become a public use facility.”

“How would you feel if your next door neighbor’s property suddenly opened to the public,” she asked councilors. “inserting a public use facility in the midst of a residential neighborhood, whether by the town or a land trust, is unacceptable.”

“It’s unsuitable for recreational water access,” she said, adding that she and her husband had invested their entire savings “into the peace and quiet of our place.”

The wooded parcel is just over 4 acres; the Mere Point Boat Launch down the road, by contrast, is about 7.5 acres.

Steve Kercel, of Brian Drive, which is across town, agreed with neighbors that the town would be better served if the property was sold to a private buyer. “If you need more public access to water there have got to be more practical places to do it than this,” he said.

Neighbors also said if the town does decide to move forward with public access, they would like to serve on an advisory committee to the project.

But some Brunswick residents from outside the Mere Point neighborhood went to bat for the project.

Pete Didisheim, of Hemlock Road, said that increasing access to the water was a priority for Brunswick, as identified in a town open space and recreation task force report published in 2002.

“We have water, water everywhere, but it’s very hard to get to,” he concluded.

Richard Knox, of Simpson’s Point Road, said he has visited the property, and conceded that at low tide the shoreline “muds out.”

“But I can tell you that (it) has water that is swimmable from about half-tide up, and that’s more than enough to make it an extremely popular place,” he said.

“I think it’s very important for the town to consider all options when it comes to public access to the shore,” he added.

Sylvia Stocker, of Braemar Road, wrote in a letter to the council saying, “I believe places of beauty, such as the ocean shore, ought to belong to everyone, not just the privileged few.”

Near the end of public comment, former Councilor Jackie Sartoris, who is Councilor Steve Walker’s wife, said the current debate over the Mere Point parcel reminded her of the controversy over the construction of the Mere Point Boat Launch over a decade ago.

“Public access issues are really hard … I don’t think there are any easy conversations to be had,” she said.

“I had one constituent … who said that I would be the death of her, and her doctor informed her that meeting with me would cause her a heart attack,” she recalled. “Abutter concerns are legitimate … but I just want to ask that you go ahead and take the time to do the due diligence that (this property) really needs.”

Vetting period

Walker, the town councilor, is a strong proponent of exploring the site’s capacity for public access, arguing it could be suited for a small gravel parking lot and benches. He said shore access is key to the “quality of place” that draws new residents to Brunswick.

Councilor Suzan Wilson, however, said she was “skeptical about the piecemeal picking of little tiny parcels” for new public lands. But she also said she was “commit(ted) to search for public access points to the shore.”

“I’m generally on the side with the neighbors right now,” said Councilor John Perreault. “(But) I don’t see anything wrong at this moment to wait the 60 days and see where it goes.”

“My mind is still open to hearing what the committees have to say,” he added.

The question will be reviewed by the Marine Resources Committee, Rivers and Coastal Waters Commission, the Conservation Commission, and the Planning Board, before going back to the full council later this summer.

Corrected June 29: Sylvia Stocker lives on Braemar Road.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

The wooded property at 946 Mere Point Road, seen from the water, is being considered for a new public access point in Brunswick.

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Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.
  • Chew H Bird

    Creating a small public spot in a residential community with difficult water access is a very poor idea. While I a supporter of public access to waterfront, this location is very poor and creating a simple park with picnic tables is not appropriate for a neighborhood that has a 5 acre minimum for a house lot.

    I often side with those less affluent, but if I had invested the amount of funds necessary to construct a neighboring home on Mere Point I would be appalled the town would even consider such a move. That said, Brunswick located an Amtrack facility in a residential neighborhood so another foul move by our towns elected officials should not surprise me. Hopefully Brunswick does the right thing and (unlike the old Tomes Record building), puts the property on the market so the integrity of the neighborhood can be maintained and it doesn’t become another money sucking, taxpayer funded, poor investment like the many others for which Brunswick is famous.

    • Real cool guy

      Just another rich liberal building a wall to keep others out.

      • Chew H Bird

        It was private property, (meaning it was private anyway). Brunswick has an extremely poor track record on real estate dealings. Heck, Brunswick is putting an industrial train facility in a residential neighborhood… What is so wrong with leaving an older neighborhood as it is? This isn’t, (in my opinion) about wealth or arrogance. It is about a location that is a poor spot for public access and maintaining the character of the neighborhood that private property owners bought into when they made their purchasing decisions.

        • Real cool guy

          It’s no longer private property. The town “seized” the property over a tax “dispute”. The town owns the property. Therefore the property is public. The town owns nothing. The town is the public represented. The public has a right to use the property as it see’s fit.

          Liberals and there hypocritical affluent walls… sigh.

          • Chew H Bird

            Correct, the town now apparently owns the property which makes it a public asset. However, with no history of public waterfront access and due to the small size, steep embankment, and limited tidal realities, plus expectations of neighboring property owners who purchased property in an older neighborhood that now has a beautiful public boat launch half a mile away, it makes no sense for the town to develop the property. Less than half a mile away there are docks, picnic tables, and plenty of parking spaces for public access that is already in use.

            I don’t live next door to the property so it isn’t a problem for me, but I see a high dollar renovation, very limited use, and a neighborhood that doesn’t want it because there is already public access right down the street.

            Brunswick purchased the old Times record building, sank a bunch of money into it, then tore it down… Brunswick purchased the building for the current town office, failed to perform due diligence, and is now seeking to spend 200k fixing what should have been negotiated in the purchase price. Brunswick allowed Jordan Acres to become unusable and never held the architects or engineers responsible for the design flaws, so we are now looking at building another new school with limited lifespan. Brunswick built an elementary school that fails to meet our population needs. The “new” Brunswick high school needs expensive boiler work due to a lack of maintenance. And (BTW) Brunswick under estimated (intentionally) the costs of maintaining the Mere Point Boat Launch…

            So… The last thing any resident should want is Brunswick trying to squeeze public water access into a poor location with significant tidal limitations and a steep slope. Brunswick would be better served by the town selling the property and using that money to look for a better location for public water access.

          • Real cool guy

            “Squeezing” public access into local communities is the only option left for our states over run coast line. Unless of course you’ve found a cost effect way to manufacture more land?

            “Expectations of neighboring property owners”!? Are you serious? Expect the world population to continue increasing and expect the changes to your neghborhood that go with it. Do I need to list them? Is it a gated community? Give me a break with their expectations.

            This lot doesn’t need to provide water access to be a great picnic spot. 4 acres is a sizable lot that allows a loop path with benches and shade trees for little old ladies. And well placed fruit bearing trees provide food for another community you’re ignoring.

            Not to mention the carbon offset… ! Or did I just do that?

          • Chew H Bird

            Since there is a two million dollar boat launch less than half a mile away that has plenty of area for the activities you have described developing this small lot for public use makes no sense to me. Maybe sell it and use the funds to further develop the already constructed boat launch are to make it more friendly for people without boats? Why create an argument when there is already a world class facility half a mile away?

          • Real cool guy

            I’m getting the impression that a lot of things don’t make sense to you.

            I didn’t describe “developing” the lot and in fact I described just the opposite. I also made it clear that water access is not needed and yet you still referenced the boat launch nearby.

            You can go sit next to the boat launch and the monster 4×4 that hauls it in and have yourself a nice picnic lunch with your visiting mother if you want. Be my guest. Is there a picnic table there for you?

            I was envisioning a small gravel parking spot (say 4 vehicles), a walking loop with benches (trees) and picnic tables overlooking the water.

            If you’re the kind of person that has a problem with that sort of public use in a residential community then you’re a twerp.

          • Chew H Bird

            What we envision and what the town does are often very different things. Have you actually been around the boat launch enough to see the generally low flow of loud and busy activity? Most activity happens early in the morning or in late afternoon. There are picnic tables available as well as bathrooms. You should try it in the evening over this holiday weekend so you can see fireworks from multiple locations with the half dozen or so people who take advantage of the location.

            Thank you for calling me a twerp. I do question many things, mostly because Brunswick makes so many illogical and costly choices.

            I am bailing from this discussion now because it is clear that your opinion is the way it should be and people who disagree with it are simply wrong. My experience is out of differing opinions often comes an appropriate solution.

          • Real cool guy

            I have a dog and I’m a combat veteran. Fireworks should be illegal!

            I’ve been down mere points trust funded elite roads. The entire peninsula should be confiscated and made into public reserved land.

            Like I said, you can have the paved 7.5 acre parking lot.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Don’t forget that Brunswick spends approximately $100K a year to maintain a visitor center at the train station while at the same time having no clue how many of the limited Amtrak riders are actually visitors to the town instead of residents. Or how about selecting the most expensive site for the new police station then severely overpaying for the real estate. In my experience, every single capital expense of any size in Brunswick should be heavily scrutinized as the track record of good decision making by the Brunswick Council is abysmal.

  • Real cool guy

    Typical rich liberals building their wall!

    I lived in the U.S Caribbean for a year. Brilliant system. No beaches are private. If you can get to it via the water side have at it.

  • Nathan Garrison

    This is a terrible spot to put a public access point, especially considering the boat launch is close by. Swimming here is potentially dangerous, and the site is too small to support visitors. I too agree that coastal access is a right, but it should not be the right of the town to decide to build one in a sensitive wild life habitat, directly in the neighbor’s backyards. #keepmainewild

  • MaineMod

    The snobbery of these neighbors is disturbing to say the least. If they think it should be kept residential, fine, keep it residential. Put a trailer park there. Let’s see what they think about that!

    My next-door neighbor had a huge parcel of land. Instead of selling it all for residential, he carved out a modest subdivision and put a conservation easement on the rest. The easement includes a trail that those pesky members of the public are allowed to use! Can you imagine?! The PUBLIC!!!!!! The trust asked us for a small easement on a corner of our property to help extend the trail. We gladly accommodated them.

    People need to get their heads out of their, well… people need to be more kind to one another.