Originally published in The Weekly Packet, January 23, 2014
Center Harbor access plan ready for town meeting
A town map shows the proposed easement from Brooklin Boat Yard to the town of Brooklin. The rectangular piece on the map (dark green) represents and existing easement and the odd-shaped piece indicates the area included in the proposed easement.
by Rich Hewitt
An agreement designed to give town residents better access to the waters of Center Harbor is just about ready to go to voters at the annual town meeting.
The board of selectmen has been working for some time with Steve White, the owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, to develop an easement for the town on boatyard property at Center Harbor. The somewhat triangular parcel abuts an existing easement, granted by White’s father, Joel White, which allows the town to utilize the boatyard parking area. But, according to Albie Smith, chairman of the town’s board of selectmen, most of those parking areas are usually taken early in the day by boatyard workers.
The new easement would provide space for additional parking spaces, several of which would be reserved for townspeople using the harbor.
The board plans to ask voters at the annual town meeting to accept the easement and, in a separate vote, to approve the Center Harbor Road right-of-way agreements that had been tabled at last year’s town meeting.
The easement, however, comes with the requirement that the town build a retaining wall along the waterfront that would provide space for additional parking.
“The easement is contingent upon the town building the retaining wall,” Smith said. “A vote for the easement means we have to move ahead and build the wall.”
The board hopes to have cost estimates available for town meeting so voters will have a general idea of what they are committing the town to. Once the project is designed, the board will come back for voter approval for the project itself, but, Smith stressed, if the town wants the easement it will have to build the retaining wall.
“We’ll come back to the town once we have a firm price,” he said. “But if that is turned down, then the easement is null and void.”
There is an old existing wall along the waterfront in the general area, and, Smith said, people already park along that space. But, because of its shape, the cars stick out, sometimes restricting access to the boatyard. One of the things White will get from this agreement, he said, is that by adding the new parking space, it will open up that area around the boatyard buildings. As part of the project, the town will also improve the road surface in the parking area and the drainage around the area.
Although they anticipate that the proposed retaining wall will stretch from the existing town ramp to the far boundary of the Center Harbor Road at the high water mark, at this point, the project is still in the conceptual phase, according to board member Mike Roy. Much of the planning and design of the retaining wall will depend on the requirements from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
“We haven’t done any engineering or design work,” he said. “It’s got to go to the DEP; they’re going to approve the design and determine how it has to be done.”
The board had no timeline for how long it might take before work could begin on the project if voters accept the easement.
Meanwhile, the board has been working on the municipal budget for the 2014-15 year. Roy said they had between one-third and two-thirds of the figures they needed for the municipal budget, and some accounts are up and some are down. At this point, he said, it appears there will be a slight increase in the budget over the current year.
One item that will be included will be the re-shingling of the town office roof. The roof was not done as part of the renovations to the building as the contractor estimated that there were still several more years of life in them. The board noted, however, that with the winter winds, a number of shingles have come off the roof.
“It’s due,” Smith said.
The board is currently seeking estimates to include in the warrant for town meeting.
They have scheduled one more meeting with the budget advisory board and also will meet with the school superintendent and chairman of the school board to discuss budget issues. That session is scheduled for 3 p.m. on February 4 at the town office. By their next regular meeting, also on February 4, they should have a pretty good idea of where the budget stands, Roy said.
The board also is reviewing a draft of an ordinance that would require builders to file a “notice of intent to alter or construct buildings” in the town.
In the absence of a land use ordinance outside the shoreland zone, the town has had little control over construction in town. That has made it difficult for officials to keep track of new buildings or improvements to existing building for assessing and taxation purposes.
Several years ago, the board instituted a voluntary notice of intent policy, which wasn’t very effective.
“I think everybody agrees that self-reporting didn’t work,” he said. “And the town is losing money.”
The ordinance is about fairness, according to board member Deborah Brewster.
“We want to see everyone treated the same and fairly,” she said. “Everybody needs to be taxed and there’s no need for us to have to go chasing after them.”
The draft ordinance is similar to the one in effect in Blue Hill and one under consideration in Brooksville, Smith said. It would require the notice to be filed with the town’s code enforcement officer for any project increasing the property value by more than $250. The notice would include the property owner’s name, map and lot number, type of change or building planned, estimated cost and the intended start and completion dates. Failure to file would make the property owner liable for back taxes on the improved property as well as a penalty.
The board will send the draft ordinance to the planning board for review before they take action. It would become effective immediately upon approval at the annual town meeting.