BELFAST, Maine — Some came because they love the city’s dark night skies and want to make sure they remain dark. Others because they are passionate about Belfast Common park and don’t want its green edges to turn into parking spaces.
One thing was clear — of the 30 or so citizens who came Wednesday night to a public hearing about the rebuilding of Cross Street to make a more welcoming pathway to the park — each one had an opinion of what makes the city special. And some opinions were stronger than others.
“We will probably strip naked and lie down in the street if you put more lights in the Common,” Andrew Stevenson of Belfast told the group of people gathered at the Belfast Boathouse, which erupted in affirmative laughter.
Lighting was clearly a lightning rod for concern among those present at the public hearing, which began with a presentation about the redesign concept. The city recently installed controversially bright streetlights along the new Belfast Harbor Walk and some folks, including Stevenson, don’t want to see the same choices get made as officials plan the new project.
“I learned I’m not going to buy another streetlight until I see it in the dark,” Councilor Mike Hurley said.
Belfast received a $500,000 downtown revitalization grant to do some of the work, and so far consulting engineers have proposed making the narrow street which runs between Main and Miller streets partially one-way. They also have suggested creating more parking spaces, installing signs and doing plantings that would generally make it more obvious to Main Street pedestrians that Cross Street will lead them somewhere good.
Right now, that’s not the case — the street is in a part of the city that has been designated “slum and blight” in order to be more eligible for grant funds. And some at the hearing said that the unprepossessing, industrial look of the street deters residents and visitors alike from using it.
“This really is primarily an economic development effort on the part of the city,” Councilor Nancy Hamilton said. “We have land. If we want downtown Belfast to grow, this is where it’s going to happen.”
Judy Kao of Belfast suggested that planners keep it simple, and focus less on signs and sculptures at the park’s entrance than on the area’s natural beauty.
“You don’t need to clutter it up with all this stuff,” she said. “The view of the sea — that’s the draw.”
City Manager Joe Slocum said that the redesigned street is one step in the city’s plan to beautify and revitalize the downtown.
“This is an area that we’re very confident that 15 years from now, it won’t look like it does today,” he said. “We’re trying to dress it up a little and put infrastructure in it.”