The Blue Hill Co-op has moved a step further in its possible relocation to South Street by hiring architect Bruce Stahnke to create “preliminary sketches,” said board president Mia Strong in a recent interview.
The sketches will not only help the Co-op board figure out the feasibility of the planned relocation, but also provide a means to give South Street a different shopping experience.
“As a co-op, we kind of want to anchor South Street and give it a direction that is more pedestrian friendly,” Strong said.
South Street has seen a surge in new businesses and offices over the past year, and some voices in the community have called for development to move in a direction that encourages a pedestrian community as much as cars.
“There comes a certain density of development where it becomes obvious that something could be done,” said Stahnke in a recent interview. “It seems that the Co-op going in there would be that kind of tipping point.”
Sidewalks, crosswalks and perhaps a reduced speed limit would create a “more pedestrian feel,” he said. Such a design would require the existing businesses, the town and the Maine Department of Transportation to agree, but “there [would be] a great deal of benefit for not that much effort…South Street is the way it is because everyone is thinking only of their own site, which is not unexpected.
“I think we have to design the building with the idea that eventually that [change] would come.”
From store manager Mark Deeny’s perspective, the close proximity of businesses is a plus. “The Co-op would benefit from being closer to other stores that its customers shop at. If it’s easier for people to fit us in with the rest of the things they’re doing, [it] would make it easier to shop with us.”
The Co-op purchased an option on a 5.5-acre parcel on South Street in October of 2012, and has a year left on that option. It has asked the community and Co-op members for input into the proposed relocation, most recently at a public information meeting on September 23 at the Blue Hill Library.
“The point was to catch people up and let them know where we’re at,” said Strong. “[And] talk about what they want to see at the co-op at the South Street location.”
From the response at the meeting, Strong said, the board, Co-op members and the public share a vision of a “community friendly” South Street.
This last informational meeting is part of an ongoing community outreach for the board and the relocation committee, said Strong, as it decides whether to move forward with the project.
“We’re hoping in the next six to eight months to really narrow down what a new building would cost. We might come through all this and realize we can’t make this leap right now,” she said.
Stahnke, of Stahnke and Kitagawa Architects of Harborside, was chosen to create a conceptual design after the committee met with five area architects.
“His body of work was very impressive,” Strong said. “He’s been volunteering as a member of a committee…He understood the project [and] green architecture.”
Stahnke said the design of the building would be “net zero,” meaning that it would add renewable energy features, such as solar panels, to replace what the building used.
Strong said the Co-op would hold at least two more public forums before a decision is reached. Stahnke expects to have a final design ready by late winter.
The public is welcome to attend the relocation committee meetings, held most Tuesdays at the library from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
“More input is always welcome,” said Deeny. “We’d love to hear what people are saying to their friends [about it].”