GLENBURN, Maine — A public-private partnership for a business park in this bedroom community has been whispered about for months, but the idea may be starting to gain momentum.
It also may be driving a wedge between two factions of the town.
Jim Tower, a Glenburn resident and engineer with Bangor-based Engineering Dynamics Inc., is working with a group of financial backers to purchase about 240 acres along Route 15 just over the Bangor line. The intent, Tower said, is to create a business and industrial park that could house up to 20 companies and dramatically increase the town’s tax base.
“In general, the business park would be attractive to the same kinds of things that have been successful in other towns,” he said. “We’re trying to get something done that we feel will be tremendous for the town.”
Town Council Chairman Blake Fryer said he thinks it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Glenburn.
“It’s the best thing I’ve seen happen,” Fryer said.
Others are less convinced.
“I believe that a 5-year-old would present a better proposal for a lemonade stand than what has been presented to us,” said Kevin Paschal, vice chairman of the Glenburn Town Council.
The sharp difference between the philosophies of Fryer and Paschal suggest that backers of the business park have an uphill road ahead.
Glenburn Town Manager Michael Crooker stressed that the proposal is still in the planning stages, but things are moving forward. Townspeople at a special meeting in early April voted to submit a grant application to the state to conduct a feasibility study.
“It’s been a constant agenda item at our meetings recently and likely will continue to be,” Crooker said.
Additionally, Tower said he has begun applying for local and state permits. The Glenburn man stressed that he is merely a facilitator in the land acquisition process and that other stakeholders, collectively known as Glenburn Holdings LLC, will shepherd the project further.
“What we are attempting to do through public meetings and hearings is to provide facts rather than let people make up their own facts,” Tower said.
The land in question is known locally as the Simpson Farm property. It stretches along Route 15, also known as Outer Broadway, and is adjacent to a half-mile stretch of railway line. Tower said the possibility for using the rail line could set the business park apart from others.
“I think in today’s world people starting to re-recognize rail transport,” he said.
From Tower’s perspective, a public-private partnership makes sense because municipalities have access to grants and programs that private entities are not eligible for. Fryer agreed and said any partnership would cost townspeople very little upfront and possibly would provide significant tax revenue down the road.
Paschal, however, said he doesn’t think municipalities should be in the business of facilitating or financing private development. Even if he felt different, Paschal said he wouldn’t support Tower’s plan.
“This is not a power struggle,” Paschal said. “I have nothing against Mr. Tower. This is not the right time for economic development.”
Paschal also cautioned that the issue has taken up a great deal of time that he feels should be spent on budget issues.
Fryer said he understood his fellow councilor’s concerns but also said that the idea of a business park is still new in Glenburn and he thinks there is a learning curve.
“Once we see the feasibility study and see that this can work, I think more people will come on board,” the council chair said.
Don’t count Paschal among them, though.
“Until I see more details, I wouldn’t consider supporting this,” he said.