BELFAST, Maine — When audience members at Tuesday night’s regular City Council meeting saw pictures of what the largest building in the Front Street Shipyard project might look like, there were audible gasps — of displeasure.
People spoke both for and against the building in a public hearing held to discuss whether the city should sell a parcel of the Front Street parking lot to development company DUBBA LLC, but no one disputed that the massive five-story building would be a big change for the waterfront.
Dan Clarke, who lives near the shipyard site, told city councilors and others that he is very much opposed to the design of the buildings that would stretch between the parking lot and the pedestrian footbridge.
“It’s no secret that I’m livid about the prospect of a monstrosity being built in my front yard,” he said. “For the city and homeowners, this is a lose-lose proposition. True, the goings-on at the shipyard will attract gawkers, but so do car crashes.”
Though most who spoke during the hearing seemed to be project neighbors, even those who were opposed to the design generally expressed support for the shipyard.
“While I think the shipyard is a good use for the waterfront, I have concerns about the size and the design,” said Judy Kaber, who lives on Bridge Street. “We’re not just building for the present. Those buildings are going to be there for decades.”
Before the hearing, those at the meeting heard from J.B. Turner, DUBBA LLC’s managing partner. He showed the audience a computer model of what the project will look like.
Although the computerized model gave a sense of the size of the 55-foot-tall building where work will be done on boats, it didn’t show its impact on the surrounding area’s views.
That was done by a series of photographs that had the massive green building superimposed on them.
“We’re not trying to create a small boatyard,” Turner said. “We’re trying to create a world-class facility … We chose the word ‘shipyard’ particularly. We’re trying to establish the fact that we’re trying to do something big here.”
And they want to do it quickly.
In January, the partners purchased the former Stinson Seafood facility and soon thereafter knocked down the crumbling Building 1 that was adjacent to the footbridge. Workers continue to make maritime improvements with the goal of getting a travel lift up and running by July 1.
“We think it’s going to bring a lot of people to the town,” Turner said. “People up on the hill will be able to sell tickets because they will have views of the most beautiful boats in the world.”
After the presentation, Connie Ouellette of Bridge Street asked that design decisions be made carefully.
“What is the value of a view?” she asked. “Use some imagination and more vision. Will we behold a treasure in midcoast Maine? Or will we behold the side of a building?”
Project neighbor Skip Pendleton also added his two cents, urging councilors to lease the land rather than give it away but also expressing support of the shipyard.
“If it was condominiums going in there I’d be standing up here screeching at you,” he said. “Change is hard to take for all of us, and this is a change, but overall I feel it’s best for Belfast.”
Councilors requested that DUBBA LLC provide them with better photographs to show how the large building would affect views from around downtown.
After the meeting, Turner said that he thought the hearing went well and that the shipyard developers don’t think the buildings will be terribly ugly.
“There needs to be some give and take on both sides,” he said.
The Belfast City Council will consider the possibility of conveying the land to the shipyard at the next regular City Council meeting on May 3.