BELFAST, Maine — Waldo County commissioners rejected several alternative options to building a new sheriff’s office and Emergency Management Agency office at a Tuesday meeting.
A group of residents offered the commissioners three options, including gutting the current sheriff’s building and remaking it into a new office space.
The commissioners said that they planned to proceed with the project as planned and that an architect is working on the new 10,000-square-foot site off Miller Street, next to the old Waldo County Sheriff’s Office.
The old office is in a house built in 1851 that has old technology, and the EMA is in the basement of the former Waldo County Jail.
The plans to build the new offices originally were submitted as a sketch plan, but those were revoked and have been resubmitted as a preliminary plan instead, according to Wayne Marshall, the Belfast city planner.
“They chose not to go forward for a sketch plan review in front of the planning board so they could address some of the concerns raised at that neighborhood meeting that the county held Feb. 25, and they chose a different date. It’s not unusual for a project that comes before the planning board,” Marshall said. He described the situation as a minor delay.
Commissioner William Shorey said the commissioners’ intent to go on with the project never stopped.
At the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, the community group’s leader, Thierry Bonneville, argued that the options his group presented could be cheaper than building something new.
Commissioner Donald Berry said this wasn’t true.
“This system is staying in place and I’m not sure how we, as commissioners, can make it any clearer: We are building on that site,” Berry said. “We agreed to work with you on the protection of properties, et cetera.”
Berry said the new sheriff’s office would not increase taxes.
The conversation grew heated as the two men raised their voices.
“I’m deeply saddened by the overall demeanor by Mr. Berry,” Bonneville told the commissioners.
“I made myself very clear what my intention was, and you continue to come back with ‘Let’s do this, let’s do this,’” Berry said.
The commissioners would be willing to work with the community group to lessen the effect of the new site on town residences, but that is all, Berry said.
Bonneville argued that surrounding property values near the new site would drop drastically. The sheriff’s office and the Emergency Management Agency property now abut two residential properties. One of them is shielded from the property by shrubbery. The new sheriff’s office property would affect at least nine nearby properties, according to the community group’s plan.
Berry argued the new building would not greatly affect any residents’ home values.
“It may have an impact on some of you, but let me tell you something: I don’t think this will decrease the property value of your homes,” Berry said. “It may increase it.”
Berry later said that the building will be attractive and that “there is no evidence that the values of these properties will decrease by having a nice-looking building sitting there.”
Commissioner William Shorey encouraged the five group members who attended the meeting to talk constructively with the architect.
Bonneville said he knew walking into the meeting that the commissioners had made a decision, “but we thought we had a shot because very little money has been put into it,” Bonneville said.
He said he was not sure what the next step for his group would be.
“It’s disappointing that there is no flexibility,” he said after the meeting.
A meeting is planned tentatively for April 14 to discuss the commissioners’ plans in front of the city’s planning board. If the preliminary plans do get presented that night, there will be a public hearing the same night. The earliest the plans could be finished is May, according to the city planner.
A meeting on the issue that originally had been scheduled for tonight has been canceled.