BELFAST, Maine — After five years of what Belfast city officials call broken promises about a failed land development project, they are fed up with watching an old sardine processing and packing plant sink further into dilapidation.
That’s why the city attorney last week filed two lawsuits and one notice of default against development company Belfast Bridge LLC. In the documents the city demands that it be authorized to raze one of four old plant buildings and be compensated for its costs, that the company pay Belfast $300,000 for its failure to construct a new commercial fisherman’s dock and that the court dissolve the complicated contract the city made with the company back in 2005.
“It’s absolutely unusual,” Belfast City Attorney Bill Kelly said Tuesday of the legal actions being taken against Belfast Bridge LLC. “The city bends over backwards to work with people on economic development on a daily basis … but after five years without any positive signs whatsoever, it sort of is enough is enough.”
New Jersey developer Tom Roberts and other partners purchased the former Stinson Seafood plant and began work in the fall of 2005 to convert it into a $12 million, luxury, 21-unit, waterfront condominium development on Belfast Harbor named Wakeag Landing, according to previous reports in the Bangor Daily News.
The Belfast City Council voted in 2005 to allow the industrial site to be rezoned to allow for the mixed-use project and made a variety of other agreements with the company that included having the developers construct a commercial fishing dock, complete landscaping and make public access improvements, Kelly said.
The project developers dreamed big — the company’s website still touts Wakeag Landing’s adjacent 62-slip marina, the restaurant and the shopping that will be a “central attraction” to condominium residents.
But the actual work never progressed very far and had ceased entirely by 2006. When Belfast Bridge LLC put the 3.6-acre site with 1,000 feet of frontage on the Passagassawakeag River up for auction two years ago, there were no takers.
Now, the luxury development project still looks like crumbling sardine plant buildings, and the company has not complied with the city’s order issued last September to demolish the building next to the popular pedestrian footbridge.
“The many things the city bargained for to make this project go forward, they never delivered,” Kelly said. “I think it’s safe to say that the code office feels like it has bent over backwards, and they’re really frustrated.”
He described the building next to the footbridge as an “attractive nuisance” that is a danger to the public and easily accessible, despite a six-foot fence surrounding it.
“It not only looks terrible, it’s deteriorating. There are holes in the floor, the roof is gone, the second floor is open,” he said. “Of course, people have been in and out of there all the time.”
Several attempts Tuesday and Wednesday to contact Belfast Bridge LLC attorney Hans Peterson of the Bangor law firm Rudman & Winchell were unsuccessful, and no current phone number for the developers could be found.
One lawsuit filed in Waldo County Superior Court states that the city of Belfast “has been damaged by Belfast Bridge LLC” and is asking the court to rescind or completely revoke the agreement Belfast had entered into with the developers.
“This is asking everybody to go back to square one, except for one thing,” Kelly said.
That one thing is a $200,000 letter of credit that the corporation had pledged to the city as part of the rezoning contract. Belfast last year collected that money from Machias Savings Bank because the corporation failed to make improvements to the pedestrian walkway, Kelley said, and the city doesn’t want to give the funds back.
Belfast Bay LLC also had been obligated to — but never did — post another, $300,000 bond to improve the commercial fisherman’s dock, which had been displaced because of the footbridge project, the attorney said. The lawsuit is also requesting that Belfast Bridge LLC pay Belfast $300,000 for “breach of performance guar-antee.”
Area fishermen have spent years working off two sets of temporary floats, the first set of which deteriorated. The commercial dock situation is disheartening, but not surprising, given the pattern established by Belfast Bridge LLC, Kelly said.
“What we got was nothing,” Kelly said. “These developers no longer wish to develop this property. Not at all. They merely wish to sell it.”