NEH Village center plan lauded

MOUNT DESERT — A streetscape and development plan for the downtown area of Northeast Harbor, with an estimated price tag of $4 million, was praised by members of the Board of Selectmen and others at Monday’s meeting of the board.

The goal of the Village Center Plan, according to the citizens’ committee that oversaw its development, is to provide “concrete recommendations for improving the village’s appearance, functionality and vitality.”

Todd Richardson of Richardson & Associates, a landscape architecture firm in Saco that the town hired to work on the plan, presented the final version to the selectmen on Monday.

He said the top priority, as identified by the committee, is the improvement of Main Street. That includes widening the sidewalk on the west side, building a narrow sidewalk along the east side, burying the utility lines and planting trees.

The plan also calls for squaring off the intersection of Main Street and Summit Road and removing the island in the middle of the intersection of Main Street and Neighborhood Road.

“Looking at some of the turning movements there and where people park, we really felt there could be more efficiency in the way people circulate and [we could] reduce if not eliminate the confusion there,” Richardson said.

Noting that a goal of the plan is to encourage more foot and vehicle traffic between Main Street and the harbor, he said one recommendation is to “celebrate” the intersection of Main and Sea streets by installing a different type of pavement “to signify that something important is happening here.”

Another way to emphasize the downtown-waterfront connection, Richardson said, would be to replace some of the parking in the municipal lot off Sea Street, just uphill from the town hall, with spaces for commercial development and a promenade with views of the harbor.

“The suggestion of some additional walkways, some different thinking about parking and the potential for some public-private partnerships and infill describes the long-term thought that we had of this area,” Richardson said.

He said the loss of parking spaces in the Sea Street lot could be offset by the addition of parking in other areas.

“The proposal includes on-street parking and a sidewalk on the easterly side of Tracy Road,” he said.

The plan also includes greenways with walking paths connecting Main Street and Tracy Road.

The draft municipal budget for next year that the selectmen will consider presenting to voters at town meeting in May calls for spending up to $274,000 for designing the Main Street component of the Village Center Plan.

“I like this plan; it’s a great plan,” Selectman Dennis Shubert said. Selectmen Brian Reilly and Martha Dudman agreed.

Jewelry maker and store owner Sam Shaw, who has been involved in efforts to revitalize Northeast Harbor for several years, called the new plan “beautiful.”

“There is virtually nothing in this plan that I don’t think is fantastic,” he said.

“I believe this begins to address some deficiencies we have on Main Street. I don’t think we’re presenting the best product, our village, as a destination.

“Our village is not a product commensurate with our clientele. I don’t feel certain that our current summer residents and visitors will be here forever if we’re not meeting their needs.”

Speaking specifically of Northeast Harbor’s longtime summer residents, Shaw said, “If they decide to pick up and go elsewhere, if the subsequent generations want to go someplace that has more restaurants, more shopping, we will lose those people, which could be very problematic for the tax revenues in this town.”

Shaw said the downtown area needs more buildings to house new businesses.

“We have 100 percent occupancy in the village in terms of retail stores. We’re full.”

Shaw himself has purchased a lot on Main Street where he plans to build a small retail and restaurant complex.

Dudman said she agrees with Shaw that the Village Center Plan would make Northeast Harbor more attractive to visitors and summer residents.

“It will also be a good thing for those of us who live here year-round,” she said. “It will make the town much more attractive and much more livable and walkable, and these are things that we want not only as a product but as our home.”

Reilly said he likes the entire Village Center Plan but thinks the recommended redesign and repurposing of the Sea Street parking lot is especially important.

“It expands our downtown area,” he said. “I would like to make sure that expansion becomes a high priority, creating opportunities for more restaurants and businesses to establish here. We can keep our [summer] residents coming here, and we can expand and get more.”

Shaw acknowledged that the estimated $3 million price tag for implementing the recommendations – not including design, engineering and contingency costs – is “a lot of dough,” but said he thinks it would be a very wise investment for the town.

Putting the cost into perspective, Shubert said, “It’s only one sewage treatment plant.”

Assisting Richardson & Associates in developing the Village Center Plan were CES Inc. and Planning Decisions Inc.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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