Belfast developer Paul Naron’s plan to remake a portion of the city’s waterfront ran into a roadblock last week when city councilors voted to table a zoning agreement after an ornery executive session that included raised voices and flared tempers.
Naron, who purchased both the former Consumer’s Fuel and French & Webb buildings on Front Street, wants to convert them to multiuse commercial spaces and expand the existing wharf to create a marina. But before that can happen, councilors want the city to have a permanent easement across his property for the Belfast Harbor Walk.
This was a sticking point, Naron and City Councilor Mike Hurley agreed on Friday, several days after Tuesday’s contentious executive session at Belfast City Hall that was described as a “semi-public shouting match” in the Republican Journal newspaper.
“We’re trying to resolve it,” the developer said. “It got pretty heated. There was a lot of miscommunication. I don’t want to put any blame on any one human being — it’s just a process. They’re all trying, but it’s a tough one. We don’t know where it’s going to end up.”
After the session, councilors voted to delay action on an agreement that had been recommended by both the Planning Board and the Harbor Committee, according to Wayne Marshall, the director of code and planning for the city.
Both the properties are under contract, or spot, rezoning, a strategy intended to allow the owner a wider variety of possible uses while allowing the City Council to ultimately approve or reject portions or all of a development plan.
“Our intent is to continue to speak with Paul Naron to try and bridge each party’s respective concerns,” Marshall wrote in a Friday email.
Details about the friction aren’t widely available, but Naron said he doesn’t want to give the city the easement exactly the way that officials want it, adding that it’s a complicated transaction.
However, Hurley said that for the city, the easement, and permanent access for the popular Harbor Walk, is critical. Previous owners of the properties did not allow the Harbor Walk to cross their land and the city had to create a detour that carries the pedestrian path to the Belfast Boat House along the Front Street sidewalk.
The Republican Journal reported Naron offered the city a 20-year lease at $1 per year, but that offer appears unacceptable to the council.
“We knew that when something new came along, that would be the time for a permanent easement to connect the Harbor Walk,” Hurley said. “For us, permanent access is an absolute that we are not ever going to bend on. From the Belfast Boat House to the Rail Trail, for the people of Belfast now and in the future.”
Hurley said he’s hopeful that a solution will be found quickly, but Naron said that right now it feels as if anything is possible.
“I’m not sure what the outcome is going to be, but I’m hoping for the best,” he said. “There’s a possibility I could walk away from the whole thing. The only thing I can say is, it’s not over ’til it’s over. We’re negotiating, at this point, but it got pretty rough there.”