BELFAST, Maine — Long before Front Street Shipyard ever thought of doing business there, Front Street has been “a mess,” some councilors and municipal officials said at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting.
It needs improvements such as water and sewer line upgrades, reconstruction, realignment, on-street parking, visibility, sidewalks and more, but that won’t come cheap. A preliminary cost estimate from Olver Associates Inc. of Winterport sets a possible price tag for the comprehensive reconstruction at $3.7 million. Soon, the city councilors will have to decide if the time is right to apply for a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration which could fund half the total project cost.
“We knew we were going to have to make significant improvements no matter what,” City Manager Joe Slocum said. “The shipyard actually becomes the enabling entity. Without the shipyard, we have no hope of getting federal money to underwrite half this project.”
Since the recent addition of the Front Street Shipyard, the sardine packing plant that sat abandoned for years there has been replaced by a busy business with lots of employees and a lot of heavy boats and machinery going in and out along the road. But future growth, both at the Front Street Shipyard and other businesses in the area, is dependent on fixing the road, officials said.
“It’s the promise of future development that really sells this project,” Belfast Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge told the councilors.
Slocum told councilors and the public that he understands that even with a grant and separate funding to pay for the water main replacement, the city’s anticipated $1.3 million share is significant.
“It’s real money. We’re not spending it casually,” he said.
Councilors Mike Hurley and Nancy Hamilton said that they would like to make sure the reconstruction adds sidewalks along the entire length of Front Street.
“This road, whatever happens, is going to be heavily used by pedestrians all year round,” Hurley said. “It cannot be built from the blind perspective of it being an industrial road.”
Councilors also adopted ordinance amendments that affect contract rezoning for the Route 3 commercial district, a parcel of land located near the Crocker Road. The amendments mostly eliminate all references to the State Informed Growth Act, a law that was rescinded by the Maine Legislature, according to City Planner Wayne Marshall.
But that didn’t soothe the concerns of one woman who spoke during the public hearing prior to the council’s vote. Andrea Chartier said she recently moved to a home in the Springbrook condominium complex off the Crocker Road — and adjacent to the commercial district.
“This is the first place I’ve lived since the 1980s where I can see the Milky Way,” she said. “It’s been wonderful listening to all the birds and the wildlife there … we didn’t realize all this was going on behind where we live now.”
Councilors also heard about some proposed changes to the way rental business is done at the Belfast Boathouse. Those include altering the rental fee schedule, limiting the number of people for events, mapping the footprint of the outside space that goes with a Boathouse rental and limiting the time that the city will spend on individual events.
Midway through the meeting, councilors heard an update from Mayor Walter Ash that Belfast voters decided in favor of setting up another committee to create a plan to withdraw from Regional School Unit 20. In Belfast, 310 people voted in favor, with 131 opposing.