TRENTON, Maine — Voters will decide Saturday whether to approve a zoning change that would allow the state to construct an Island Explorer maintenance, storage and passenger terminal on Route 3.
Officials with Acadia National Park, Maine Department of Transportation and Friends of Acadia have been working on plans for the Acadia Gateway Center for several years. It would serve as a maintenance and storage facility and passenger terminal for the Island Explorer bus system, which now has no such base from which to operate. The eventual goal is to expand the facility to include a new visitors center for Acadia National Park.
The Island Explorer system has been credited with helping to reduce seasonal vehicle congestion on Mount Desert Island, which attracts millions of tourists each summer to Acadia and Bar Harbor. The buses, which run on propane fuel and operate between late June and mid-October, have provided nearly 3 million passenger rides since it began seasonal service in 1999.
Trenton officials have not always endorsed the gateway center concept, however, and some residents still do not support it. The state initially indicated it would not seek official municipal approval for the project. That prompted Trenton residents to object that they were being left out of the process, and that the benefit of the facility to the town likely would be nonexistent.
Jim Cameron, first selectman for Trenton, said Wednesday that though he had his doubts, he supports the proposal. Over the past two years, DOT officials have changed their position and worked with local officials to make sure the town’s concerns have been addressed, he said.
“The MDOT has really stepped up to the plate to work with the local community on this,” Cameron said. “We think, overall, it’s in the long-term [best] interests of the community.”
Trenton voters will weigh in on the proposal when they meet at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 30, at the local elementary school.
In 2007, voters adopted a local contract zoning ordinance that gives them final say over building proposals, such as the Acadia Gateway Center, that are not expressly permitted in the town’s zoning regulations but are similar to permitted land uses. The local planning board and selectmen have endorsed the gateway center proposal, Cameron said.
Cameron acknowledged concerns that the town will not benefit from the project. He said the loss of property tax revenue from the parcel where the facility would be built is small, and that businesses are not likely to be affected.
Neighboring properties could increase in value, Cameron said, and there likely will be jobs created with Island Explorer, Acadia National Park, or businesses such as park concessionaires that eventually could have a park-related presence at the visitors center.
In light of the poor economy, which has prompted officials at Hinckley Yachts to consider closing down their production facility altogether, Trenton needs to do what it can to help draw more people and businesses to town, he said.
“We feel that it will [create local jobs],” Cameron said.
Stephanie Clement of Friends of Acadia said Thursday the nonprofit group supports the project. She said the Island Explorer needs to have a permanent home if it is to grow in the region, and that the bus system will give tourists a chance to take their time and see what services are available in Trenton. People in a hurry to get to MDI aren’t likely to use the bus system anyway, she added.
“People will be able to see what’s offered in the area,” Clement said.
But Vincent and Leslie Esposito, who own a cupola shop on Route 3, said Thursday they are concerned the Island Explorer facility could hurt their business by decreasing the amount of traffic that potentially could stop at their store. They said they are concerned the development could adversely affect their property and increase their tax bill but won’t necessarily lead to any new jobs.
“I really don’t see any businesses coming in [because of the bus terminal],” Vincent Esposito said. “Trenton isn’t the destination. The park is.”
Jeff Hodgkins, who has erected a sign in the yard of his Route 3 home urging people to vote against the proposal, said the economy is doing too poorly to commit several million dollars in state and federal tax money to the project.
“I really don’t believe we should be spending something we don’t have,” Hodgkins said. “I fear if they start this, they won’t have the funding to finish it.”
Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s vote, the Espositos and Hodgkins each said, they hope most residents attend the annual town meeting. They don’t want the matter decided by an active minority of local voters.
“I’m hoping for a big turnout,” Hodgkins said. “Whichever way it goes, fine.”