BELFAST, Maine — Although Waldo County officials have withdrawn their application to have the Belfast Planning Board review the sketch plan for a new 10,000-square-foot sheriff’s office and emergency management center on Congress Street, the controversial project is still in the works.
The planning board’s public hearing on the matter, originally scheduled for March 10, was canceled this week.
Dale Rowley, director of the Waldo County Emergency Management Agency, said Tuesday the sketch plan review for the Congress Street construction was not mandatory, but that county officials expect to submit the proposal in April for a preliminary review with the planning board.
A meeting on the proposal held last Thursday evening drew 40 to 50 neighbors and Belfast taxpayers, many of whom are concerned the construction will lower their own property values. Others said they don’t think the neighborhood is the right place for a large new service building.
“The neighborhood meeting wasn’t a legal requirement. We were doing it to try to get input and be good neighbors,” Rowley said. “We’re not changing the mission, we’re not changing staffing, we’re not changing anything — except for moving from an old building to a new building.”
Thierry Bonneville and others do not agree. The Congress Street resident has helped spearhead four meetings about the project to date, and said Tuesday the group has identified several ways to have a “win-win” scenario.
The project’s most contentious element is the $1 million proposed sheriff’s office, he said, which would be significantly larger than nearby homes. The new building would be an upgrade of the current office, which is located in an 1851 house with old technology.
Bonneville said one alternate plan proposed by the neighborhood and taxpayer group is to do a 21st century retrofit of the 1851 house instead of building a new administrative space.
“We’ve sketched some plans. We think we can do it for less than $1 million. We think we can save the county $300,000 for other projects,” he said.
Another proposed alternative would be to have the Sheriff’s Department move into some of the city’s available commercial spaces, including the Wentworth Building on Waldo Avenue.
“We’ve listened to all the things they’ve said. We’re trying to find one solution that would satisfy all of them,” Bonneville said.
He and a small delegation from the group will present their ideas Tuesday morning to the Waldo County commissioners.
Rowley said he was hoping the concerned neighbors would share their particular worries about the new building at the meeting. Some people did say they would prefer the building not be constructed out of brick, as are the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center — formerly the Waldo County Jail — and the Waldo County Regional Communications Center, which are located on the same parcel.
It doesn’t have to be brick, Rowley said, adding he’s glad to hear that kind of feedback.
“We want to be a good neighbor,” he said. “We would like to build this so that people forget we’re here.”