Bar Harbor wants hotel construction pact

Posted Nov. 17, 2010, at 8:19 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:06 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Town Council decided Tuesday it wants a written agreement on how a hotel developer’s latest construction project will affect abutting public property before it gives the green light to permanent traffic changes around the site.

Town officials want an agreement to resolve issues concerning public access and lighting in the area during construction and to specify who will pay for changes to street curbing and sidewalks.

Ocean Properties indicated it is willing to work quickly to reach such an agreement with the town, but said the traffic changes shouldn’t be held up while the agreement is hammered out. The company’s building permit depends upon the council approving the traffic changes, Ocean Properties representatives told the council Tuesday night, and it doesn’t want to have to wait any longer to get started on construction.

“It should not be linked to other issues,” Andrew Hamilton, a Bangor attorney who represents Ocean Properties, said about the proposed changes to the traffic ordinance. “We’d like to move this along.”

The proposed traffic changes that the council will have to approve to make the hotel project possible include making Lennox Place one-way and changing Rodick Street between York and West streets from one-way to two-way so that vehicles can gain access to York Street more directly from West Street. York Street runs be-hind the hotel site from Rodick Street.

Ocean Properties officials said they found out about the proposed construction agreement only last Friday evening. Since then, the firm has been working diligently to review the town’s proposal so that a formal arrangement can be reached.

“We’re in agreement that we can resolve all these things,” Eben Salvatore, the company’s director of local operations, told the council.

Town officials have received some criticism in the past week from residents who believe the agreement is a burden that specifically targets Ocean Properties, which owns and operates four other hotels in town.

Jeff Dobbs, a former town councilor, told the board Tuesday night that he thought the agreement is unnecessary.

“This is just extra luggage,” he said. “I don’t know where this came from.”

Matt Horton, a town councilor who was unable to make Tuesday’s meeting, raised his concerns in a memo to other council members and to Town Manager Dana Reed. Horton said in the memo that the agreement should not hold up the council’s vote on the traffic changes.

“Why has this project been singled out for this type of agreement when no other large scale construction project has ever been subject to such an agreement?” Horton asked in the memo. “Hannaford? Jax Lab? Others? Yes, there have been many that fit within similar circumstances.”

Hannaford Bros. is expanding its Cottage Street store in Bar Harbor and The Jackson Laboratory is about to break ground on a new sustainable energy plant on its Route 3 campus.

In response to Horton’s concerns, Reed said that the comparisons are not apt. Neither the Hannaford nor the Jackson Lab construction projects are having any direct affect on nearby public property, he said.

At the hotel site, utility poles with streetlights and sidewalks along West and Rodick streets will have to be removed while the hotel is built, Reed said. Lennox Place, which is a public way that helps provide access to a town-owned parking lot behind the hotel site, will be closed during construction. And, he added, there has been no agreement about who will pay for adjacent road improvements that are directly connected to the hotel project.

Town councilors indicated Tuesday that the agreement is aimed at protecting the town’s interests and that, by having such project details hammered out in advance, it would also be helpful to the developer.

“This negates arguments over the minutiae down the road,” Councilor Peter St. Germain said.

To handle the construction details, which were not addressed in the planning board’s approval, Reed had drafted a Memorandum of Understanding that he said would lead to a more formal comprehensive development agreement. But Hamilton countered by providing the council with sidewalk and road easement agreements drafted by the company.

Despite the competing documents, town officials and Ocean Properties representatives said they were confident that attorneys representing both sides could work out a compromise agreement.

To help speed things along, the council decided to hold a special meeting Tuesday, Nov. 23, at which they hope to sign an agreement supported both by the town and Ocean Properties.

With such an agreement in place, the council is expected to give its immediate approval to the proposed traffic changes, which will allow the firm to start construction on the $12 million project.

According to Salvatore, Ocean Properties hopes to have the 102-room hotel completed and open for business by the spring of 2012.

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