SOUTHWEST HARBOR—Residents will not get the chance to vote on Warrant Article 43 at the annual Town Meeting on June 5.
The article asked if voters want to pursue grant funding for two projects in town, but the Board of Selectmen decided on Tuesday to amend the annual Town Meeting warrant to exclude it.
Expansion and development of the Manset Dock was one of the projects and developing a parcel of property adjacent to Chris’s Pond that would include low–income housing was the second. Those involved with coordinating the projects were pursuing grant money from the state’s Land and Water Conservation Fund with an application deadline of the end of this month, as well as a federal Small Harbor Improvement Program (SHIP) grant.
Members of the Harbor Committee voted on Monday night to withdraw from the proposed project for the Manset Dock that included filling in shoreland, building a new harbormaster’s office with public restrooms, a shore path, green space for the public and increased access for recreational water users.
“I just want to put the brakes on what we have here,” said committee member Corey Pettegrow. “The functionality for this is wrong for this area… You can’t have excavators, trucks, boom trucks and a family with a picnic in that area. This is a busy place. It’s not even a fun place to be from now until September. My whole issue on this has been function.”
After working with an engineer on the plans throughout the winter, some members of the committee were surprised the concerns were being raised at the eleventh hour.
“I wish somebody had raised the questions before now,” said Ron Weiner, a member of the Harbor Committee. “I’m a little troubled we’ve gone as far as we have and not gotten anywhere. I’m really confused about it… To me, it now seems like a waste of time.”
When an update was presented to the Board of Selectmen during their meeting Tuesday, Chairman Kristin Hutchins shared Weiner’s confusion.
“What went wrong?” she asked members of the Harbor Committee who attended the meeting.
“We’re trying to reel in the project a bit,” said Nick Madeira, the newly elected chair of the Harbor Committee. “Take a bit of the fluff out and work on functionality… There was concern of trying to squeeze in things for the grant proposal and figure out what we actually need. It works fine the way it is right now.”
Grant money was used to have an engineer design plans for the project that is estimated to cost $750,000. Originally, Harbor Committee member John Stanley presented a rough sketch of a plan to the other members upon which the engineer built the new proposal.
In 2018, the town bought the Hook Property adjacent to the Manset Dock lot, after leasing it for 25 years, with the intention of expanding parking.
“Why don’t we just fill it in and sit back and see what it is?” Public Works Foreman Scott Alley asked during Board of Selectmen meeting. “I think parking is what we originally wanted.”
Plans for Chris’s Pond met the same fate at the board meeting after a member of the town’s Conservation Committee spoke and Board of Selectmen member Carolyn Ball gave an update on grant funding. Misha Mytar from Maine Coast Heritage Trust attended through Zoom to answer questions.
Owners of 392 Main Street offered to work with MCHT to sell the property to the town at a lower cost than the real estate market could yield. Members of the Conservation Committee and MCHT were working together to design a plan for the property that included additional parking for users of Chris’s Pond, building a duplex for affordable housing and creating more access to the pond.
“I think it’s a terrible idea for the abutting property owners and I don’t think the town should be involved in it,” said Selectman George Jellison. “I’ve watched this plan change four times since February. I don’t know how you can apply for this grant with an ever-changing plan.
“I don’t think the town should be in the business of devaluing somebody’s property.”
Letters have been sent to every abutting property owner, explained Mytar, adding that there had not been any negative communication in response.
“All we have asked to do it apply for a grant,” said Hutchins. “We have not put ourselves up against any obligations.”
When Jellison made a motion not to apply for the grant, the vote passed 3-2 with Ball and Hutchins opposed.
“It seems to be the will of the board that they don’t want to pursue this project,” said Hutchins.
“That’s disappointing,” Mytar said in response. “We have a significant budget, frankly, for landscaping and buffering… To me, it feels like things have been moving along in the way we have been guided.”
A member of the public asked why the board wouldn’t put the plan before voters to see if there was support.
“I just haven’t felt right about this project for a few months now,” said Jellison.
When Hutchins asked the board if they wanted to reconsider their vote, there was not enough support to do so.
“We lose the affordable housing aspect of it too,” said Jane Ayres Peabody, treasurer of the Conservation Committee, “which is a real shame. We really need affordable housing.”