SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Selectmen on Tuesday agreed to enter into a one-year lease for use of the post office parking lot pending legal approval and elimination of a clause allowing the owners to terminate the lease with 120 days notice, voting 4-1 on a motion made and seconded “reluctantly” by the board members.
Selectmen discussed the issue in response to a petition submitted last week by business owners and residents asking them to reconsider their decision in December to not renew a lease on the lot, which is owned by Ken and Chiaolin Korona. The petition was prompted by the Korona’s recent closure of the lot for one night, a move Ken Korona has said was aimed at getting neighboring business owners, whose customers and employees use the lot, to discuss sharing the cost of snowplowing and other maintenance.
The reluctance on the part of selectmen apparently stems from the lack of participation from the complaining business owners when renewal of the lease was discussed in December and subsequent discussions by selectmen regarding the possible purchase of a lot on Main Street for municipal parking.
“I feel we’ve been put into a corner we shouldn’t have been put in,” Selectman George Jellison told the business owners at the meeting.
Scott Worcester, who with his wife, Jennifer, owns Sawyer’s Specialties and Sips restaurant, said he had been unaware of discussions about the lease.
“I didn’t know the lease was up until we got a snowfall,” he said. “I’ll own that.”
Worcester was referring to the fact that the Koronas were having just part of their lot plowed after snowstorms.
The town first entered into a 20-year lease on the parking lot in 1986 with the previous owner. The lease had an option to extend the term for another 10 years, which, at the time, selectmen voted to do. The 10-year option expired on Dec. 15. Under the terms of the lease, the town paid $1 annually and the Koronas were given a property tax break of about $1,200.
Selectmen decided not to renew the lease after Ken Korona insisted on a one-year term because of his uncertainty regarding future use of the lot. A long-term lease would limit any plans he might have for building on the lot, he said.
The historical use of the lot by the public should be taken into consideration, argued resident Lee Worcester.
“They have 30 years of history thinking this is a public parking lot,” he said. “To stop it now would cause significant turmoil.”
The one-year lease would go into effect June 30. The town would pay $1 for use of 41 spaces and do the snowplowing, sweeping and striping of parking spaces. There would be no property tax break for the Koronas.
Town Manager Don Lagrange negotiated the terms of the lease. He told selectmen that, although Ken Korona still finds a long-term lease unacceptable, they did discuss other options. The town possibly could purchase the entire property, just the parking area or a portion of the lot, he said.
Jellison cast the lone vote in opposition. Ken Korona offered to pay half the maintenance costs and split the remainder with surrounding business owners and got no response. That should be the solution, he said.
“I’m not in favor of doing anything right now,” Jellison said. “I don’t think a one-year deal is in the taxpayer’s best interest.”
Jennifer Worcester said she didn’t think it fair that only three or four business owners were approached about sharing the cost of maintaining the lot.
“It’s not being used just for our purposes,” she said.
On Wednesday morning, Ken Korona said he has no issues with eliminating the 120-day termination clause and the town getting legal advice on the lease.