MOUNT DESERT — The planned $3.96 million redevelopment project for Northeast Harbor’s Main Street will go ahead as planned if voters at a Sept. 10 special town meeting follow the recommendations of the Board of Selectmen and Warrant Committee.
Following a public hearing Monday night, selectmen voted unanimously against recommending that voters at the special town meeting approve a warrant article calling for further consideration of the project.
They voted unanimously to take no position on a similar warrant article, a citizens’ initiative, which would essentially have the same effect.
On Tuesday, the Warrant Committee voted 11-3 to recommend against passage of one of the warrant articles and 10-3 against passage of the other. That means the majority of committee members feel the project should go ahead as planned and without delay.
The Main Street project and the funding for it were approved at the May 8 regular town meeting. Work on the project is currently scheduled to begin Oct. 15.
The warrant article that the selectmen chose not to endorse was the one they had voted two weeks ago to place on the special town meeting warrant.
It was in response to a warrant article prompted by a citizens’ petition that is more specific in calling for major elements of the Main Street project to be reconsidered, specifically the timing of the project and the burying of utility wires. The selectmen on Monday chose to take no position on whether that warrant article should pass.
In making that motion, Matt Hart cited the board’s decision in 2017 not to make a recommendation on a citizen-initiated resolution.
“Is that something we want to follow in regard to citizen petitions?” he asked. He and his fellow board members decided the answer was yes.
The citizens’ petition warrant article asks if voters want the selectmen to reconsider the plan to bury electric, telephone and internet lines under Main Street and, instead, to provide those utilities from poles behind the buildings. A number of downtown business owners and others have said that the alternative would cause far less disruption during the project and likely would be less costly.
But Town Manager Durlin Lunt pointed out that the warrant article for the Main Street project that voters approved in May specified that the project would include “improved sidewalks, grading, drainage, roadway, utilities, including burying the overhead utility wires…”
“So, I think you’re pretty well locked into that, because a special town meeting article can’t be used to nullify a vote of a regular town meeting,” Lunt said.
The citizens’ petition warrant article also asks if the selectmen should change the timeframe for the project “so as not to put in danger the viability and profitability of the last existing businesses on Main Street and surrounding streets.”
The petition also asks the town to delay the Main Street project until any new building construction on Main Street has been completed. That could postpone the project indefinitely.
The warrant article that the selectmen voted to put before voters is shorter and simpler: “Shall the town direct the Board of Selectmen to further reconsider the details of implementation of the Main Street project?”
The selectmen indicated they voted not to recommend passage of that article because they have already reconsidered the project in light of the citizens’ petition.
If one or both of the warrant articles pass, Lunt said, “the selectmen would come back and do one more reconsideration like they have already done. Maybe there are some new facts that would come in.”
In response to a question at the public hearing, Lunt said some elements of the project could be adjusted or modified, but neither the overall concept nor major components can be changed. He said that, once work on the project is underway, it is possible that some minor modifications will be made.
“That is to be expected with projects such as this and such adjustments are acceptable,” he said, “as long as they stay within the general guidelines of the warrant article.”
“I understand that this type of project is not everybody’s cup of tea,” Lunt said. “But I think the town is committed now to moving forward and completing this plan substantially as it was designed…with maybe some slight modifications to make it work better.”