November 14, 2019
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Plans to develop Belfast’s harbor seem uncertain after developer walks away from negotiations

Nick McCrea | BDN
Nick McCrea | BDN
The view of Belfast's harbor from inside the former French & Webb workshop.

BELFAST, Maine — Plans to bring a marina, restaurant and more to the downtown waterfront seem less certain after the developer this week refused to sign a contract that had been hammered out over months of intensive negotiations.

“This agreement has been changed to the point that it’s unacceptable,” developer Paul Naron told city councilors at Tuesday’s regular council meeting. “I’m really at the end of this process … I don’t have to do this project.”

Naron indicated he was done with discussions for the night.

“It’s my birthday, and I’m going to dinner,” he told councilors before leaving council chambers.

But city staff and councilors continued the hearing on the agreement without Naron where they heard from people who feared that giving the developer a so-called “view easement,” to ensure the view from his properties wouldn’t be obstructed, would give him too much control over city land. Councilors ultimately nixed the easement from the agreement.

Before that, Wayne Marshall, director of the city’s code and planning department, said Naron’s attorney had approved the agreement with only one new condition that allowed Naron to use cranes and a forklift to remove floats from the marina, if needed. It’s a request that Naron himself had made, according to Marshall.

“Everything that is in this contract is exactly what was presented,” he said. “It is a gross misstatement to go through and say that suddenly I’ve made things up.”

The council has been negotiating with Naron since February about the unconventional developer’s proposal to turn his two waterfront buildings into a marina, restaurant and more. The initial sticking point was the city’s demand for a permanent public easement for the Harbor Walk, a popular waterfront trail.

But even after that seemed finalized, the rest of the negotiation process hasn’t been smooth.

“There is always another tripwire somewhere,” Councilor Neal Harkness said.

Mayor Samantha Paradis, presiding over the last city council meeting she can make before the city elects a new mayor next month, said she was “taken aback” at the contention.

“I think on our part and on the part of the city staff, we’ve come at this from a good faith perspective.”

During the public hearing, Carol Good, chair of the parks and recreation committee, said the view easement might limit the city from planting taller bushes, replacing dead trees or allowing people to erect temporary tents during events.

“We believe it is unwise to cede control like this to a private party,” she said.

Councilors seemed to indicate they would wait for the developer to make the next move — and that they might not be very enthusiastic when he does.

“The more confusing and more drawn out and crazier this gets, since February, my thinking on the whole subject is changing,” Councilor Mary Mortier said. “I am tired of this conversation. It has dragged on too long.”

 



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