BELFAST, Maine — Applause filled the Belfast City Council chambers Monday night after councilors voted unanimously to allow the Front Street Shipyard to build a 55-foot-tall building exactly where company officials had hoped to build it.
To many in the room, the council’s vote seemed to be about something even larger than the 22,000-square-foot building where large boats will be repaired.
“This is a really historic night,” City Councilor Marina Delune said just before the vote. “We are preparing to have Belfast become what it once was: a great shipbuilding city.”
The special City Council meeting and public hearing was held so that the council could consider which of two options for the location of the building would be a better fit for Belfast.
The decision was proving to be controversial — at a public hearing held on the matter two weeks ago, plenty of residents stood up to register their alarm at the project’s size, with one man calling it a “monstrosity.” Others spoke in favor of working as much as possible with DUBBA LLC, the company that had purchased the former Stinson Seafood property in January.
Councilors weren’t sure at the beginning of Monday’s meeting if they would take any action at all that night.
“Anything’s possible,” Mayor Walter Ash said at one point.
When City Planner Wayne Marshall passed on the message that the design review committee wanted the company to come up with a third choice of location, a wild card that didn’t seem to be anticipated by anyone present, an audible groan ran around the room.
But after watching a presentation by Front Street Shipyard principal JB Turner and listening to person after person speak in support of the option favored strongly by the shipyard, councilors decided to go ahead and vote.
Option A, which ultimately was selected by the councilors, will place the building on about an acre and a half in the Front Street municipal parking lot. Option B would have used about an acre of city property and potentially left more views of the harbor from downtown intact, but did not allow the shipyard’s travel lift much room to maneuver.
Councilors said that shipyard officials had offered to lease or purchase the land from the city.
“To me, they have done nothing but try and work with the city,” said Diane Allmeyer-Beck, who sits on the planning board. “We’ve been 10 years getting to here. I really doubt whether future development is going to come knocking on our doors [soon].”
Fran Riley stood up and said it was the first public hearing she had ever been to where she hadn’t heard from the opposing side.
“And option C — please don’t let that even be a consideration,” she said, asking councilors to vote Monday night and move the project forward.
Phil Brown, a project neighbor who said that the shipyard would be visible from his front windows, asked the council to support option A.
“I think it is the best thing that’s ever happened in our city since I don’t know when,” he said of the shipyard.
After the vote, the four shipyard principals shook hands and smiled as residents came to congratulate them.
Steve White, president of Brooklin Boat Yard, said that now the company can move forward with certain aspects of construction that had been on hold. Ground will be broken for the large building in two to three months, he said, and it likely will be completed by the middle of next winter.
“It was very heartwarming to see all the support,” he said.