Five months after a town meeting debate and vote, the town of Mount Desert is finally getting closer to signing a contract and breaking ground on the redevelopment of Main Street in Northeast Harbor. The project has been in the planning stages for more than three years.
Selectmen approved a revised plan that addresses some of the concerns of a group that brought a petition in July seeking changes to the project.
The new compromise is a good solution. It calls for burying utility lines on only one side of the street, rather than both sides. Suggestions for the “island park” at the south end of the street also improved the plan, making sure large vehicles will be able to navigate the intersection.
But it’s regrettable that the debate began in earnest only after the town meeting voted on the project and a contract was ready to be signed.
There was no shortage of opportunities to engage earlier. Plans were presented to the Summer Residents Association for discussion four times between 2015 and 2017, and also included in that group’s winter newsletter. The Village Center Plan Committee held public outreach meetings and a visioning workshop. And the project went to the regular May town meeting twice — in 2017 for final design funding and in 2018 for project funding.
Yet somehow, petitioners argued, too many residents “didn’t even know the things that were going to be done.”
The attempts to communicate and seek feedback did not have the desired effect. It’s worth asking why. Are there concerns about the town’s bid policies? Does communication between the water district and the town need to improve? Do business owners have sufficient information and opportunity to weigh in on decisions that affect them? These issues deserve consideration if the town hopes to avoid repeating the debacle it’s just come through.