SOUTHWEST HARBOR — When Shelley Mitchell got to work on Tuesday she found five large rocks in the parking lot behind McEachern & Hutchins.
“I didn’t know those boulders were going to be in those spots,” said Mitchell, the manager of the downtown hardware store. “I’m not sure if those were to get people talking. At this point there’s really nothing we can do.”
People have been talking. A year-long lease between the town and Ken Korona, who owns the parking lot, expired on June 30.
A message was sent out by Korona on Friday letting people know the lot would be closed to the public, other than serving the businesses within his building, starting Monday.
Korona, who has owned the Post Office building and the lot since 2005, acknowledged he had put the rocks there on Monday evening.
“I chose that spot because they are the farthest away from my building,” said Korona about placement, admitting it was not meant as a slight to the hardware store. “This is one piece of property. The parking lot is there to serve the building … There is an expectation that I should be providing a parking lot for the town all the time.”
When Korona purchased the property in 2005, he did so with an understanding the town already had a 20-year lease in place. Under that lease, the town paid him $1 a year and reduced the tax bill on the property, according to Korona.
When the lease expired, a couple of years after his purchase, Korona signed another 10-year lease agreement with the town.
That agreement expired at the end of last May.
“The town asked me about selling them the property,” Korona said. “There were conditions given that could not be met, so that fell through.”
After Korona closed the lot for a night in June 2017 and several business owners lodged complaints, selectmen drafted a year-long lease to extend public use.
Several business owners addressed selectmen at a June 26 meeting asking them to take action before the current lease expired. One hundred and thirty four signatures had been collected on a petition.
After an hour of discussion, chair Dan Norwood said it was up to the town manager to negotiate with the property owner. The board would then make a decision based on a recommendation from the town manager.
“I think the new town manager got thrown into a beehive,” said Jen Worcester. She owns Sips, a restaurant located across from the lot. “On July 10 they shouldn’t be looking at options, it’s stupid. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the town doesn’t know the town doesn’t own the lot.”
Worcester and her husband, Scott Worcester, who owns Sawyers Specialties in downtown think the issue should go to a vote.
“If the town as a whole decides we don’t need it, I’ll fully support that,” added Scott Worcester. “It’s becoming an increasing inconvenience for all the businesses in town.”
Korona has provided new Town Manager Justin VanDongen with two different proposals for how to proceed. One is to sell the entire parking lot to the town. The second is to lease the lot for another 10 years. Selectmen are scheduled to meet again on July 17.
“I’ve offered them a solution,” said Korona about his proposal to the town. “It’s up to them to decide.”