May 26, 2018
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Panel clears post office relocation

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The third time proved to be the charm for a site development plan that will allow the U.S. Postal Service to move into the former District Court Building downtown.

After visiting the site Wednesday and re-addressing a number of parking and pedestrian safety concerns, members of the planning board approved an application that had been denied once and postponed another time.

Penobscot County, which owns the building and plans to lease part of it to the post office, will construct a 22-foot-by-25-foot loading dock and reconfigure the parking area to accommodate its new tenant.

Planning board chairwoman Allie Brown conceded that the applicant had done all it could to address concerns.

“It’s not perfect, but I’m not sure a perfect site exists,” she said before Wednesday’s vote.

Once the improvements are made, the Bangor post office plans to move from its location in the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building on Harlow Street to 73 Hammond St.

Earlier this year, U.S. Postal Service officials visited Bangor to tour a handful of potential sites. The finalists included the former court building, the former Miller’s Restaurant and temporary Hollywood Slots facility on Main Street, and empty space at the Bangor Daily News building, also on Main Street.

Post office officials have said that they were told to vacate the Federal Building, which is undergoing a $53 million renovation project, by May 1.

During the initial application discussion in February, planning board members Miles Theeman, Andrew Sturgeon and others expressed concerns about the site development plan and ultimately denied the request.

“I think we need to exercise some common sense here,” Theeman said at the time.

The county, along with consultants from WBRC Architects-Engineers and Gorill-Palmer Consulting Engineers, then made several changes to the original plan and resubmitted the application last week. Again, the planning board, led by Theeman, reiterated parking and safety concerns, and after three hours of discussion, decided to defer a final decision pending a site visit.

Board members visited the site in person before Wednesday’s meeting. First, they got a look inside the former courthouse, which already is being renovated and reconfigured to house a retail post office. Then, they toured the exterior of the building, which showed chalk outlines of the parking changes, the area where a loading dock will be constructed and new sidewalks adjacent to the building.

Additional changes will include the removal of a parking space that planning board members believed was too close to the proposed loading dock and eliminating a parking spot on Franklin Street to improve visibility. The county also agreed to add a flashing and auditory walk light at the Franklin Street exit site.

The former District Court site faces both Hammond and Franklin streets and abuts the Penobscot County Jail and the Penobscot County Courthouse, which also are owned and operated by the county. Both courts are now housed in the Penobscot Judicial Center at 78 Exchange St.

On-site parking is limited and tough to navigate, which has been the biggest concern about the current Bangor post office site on Harlow Street.

Attorney Andrew Hamilton, who represented the applicant on Wednesday, said the new location will actually create more parking spaces than currently exist in the lot across from the Federal Building.

Penobscot County Administrator William Collins said the building would continue to house probation and parole offices for the state Department of Corrections even after the post office moves in. The county also is negotiating a lease with an as-yet-unidentified nonprofit agency to occupy space.

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