Times Record: CEI sketch plan advances (Jan. 29, 2014)

BRUNSWICK

The Planning Board advanced plans for a new two-story, 21,780- square-foot office building on historic Federal Street Tuesday and also granted itself the power to act as the Village Review Board in special circumstances.

In voting unanimously to endorse a sketch plan for a proposed Coastal Enterprises Inc. headquarters at 30 Federal St., the panel started a long review process that now includes public and staff comments. A final plan will be submitted that incorporates those comments, and the final plan will be reviewed again by staff and put to the public prior to final Planning Board action.

Tuesday’s vote was limited to finding that the plan met dimensional requirements and was a permitted use, Planning Board Chairman Charlie Frizzle reminded the audience.

In a 30-minute public hearing prior to the vote, several residents took the opportunity to rip the development as out of character for a historic residential street. One critic called the planned building a “monstrosity.”

Most of the critics said they welcome CEI in Brunswick, even as they complained their proposed building would be too large and disharmonious to the architectural character of the neighborhood.

One common criticism seemed to be the building would be accessed from parking lots, with no entrance from Federal Street itself — a concern echoed by Planning Board member Margaret Wilson.

Behind all the complaints was simply that the sketch plan did not provide detail, such as a street-level rendering, of what the building would look like. It was “hard to tell what this monstrosity will look like in a residential area” from an aerial blueprint, said Betty Leonard, a resident.

George Glover, owner of the nearby Tondreau block on Maine Street, said the proposed building is analogous in size to Brunswick’s new police station.

He said the plan looked “disharmonious to Federal Street,” and characterized the building as “monolithic” and “in your face.”

A letter was read from Jonathan Shepherd, who was born and raised at 13 Federal St. and whose chief complaint was that the plans did not display clapboard and red brick architectural detail — specifically, red brick that is “just like Hawthorne School and just like 32 Federal St., which is the building that will sit directly across Center Street from CEI.”

Shepherd also wanted to know whether an outdoor patio planned near Federal Street would be smoke-free. David LaTulippe of Topsham based Priority Real Estate Group assured him it would be.

Taking a different view, Art Boulay of 32 Federal St., said “welcoming CEI is a nobrainer,” and that he was “looking forward to looking out my window and seeing a well-designed building, not a quonset hut,” a reference to the arch-roofed former recreation center due to be pulverized to make way for CEI.

“A group like CEI gives me confidence the building will be well-built and well-maintained,” Boulay said.

In introducing CEI to Brunswick, CEI Director of Housing Development John Egan said the nonprofit group went through a “several months search process” that led them to the Brunswick-Topsham area.

Egan said CEI is very familiar with Brunswick via projects, and board members and staff who live here.

Other than a few in the Portland office “sad about losing their waterfront offices,” staff now in Wiscasset and Portland are looking forward to being together in Brunswick, Egan told the Planning Board and approximately 40 in attendance.

LaTulippe said CEI officials liked Brunswick’s downtown village and “small-town feel.” He said maintaining an appropriate streetfront on Federal Street will be key for planners as they move ahead.

Will Conway of Sebago Technics said developers “won’t save all the trees” on the property in constructing the building but would plant some new trees. The building would tie into existing storm water systems and have the same impervious surface with a slightly smaller footprint, he said. Other details such as wrought-iron-and-masonry fencing along the Federal Street boundary still need to be refined.

Financially, representatives of CEI said the nonprofit organization that finances community development projects can pull off the deal.

“No TIFs,” LaTulippe said. “This is a standalone project.”

The next step will be applications to the Village Review Board seeking design and demolition approvals, expected to be filed next week.

The CEI discussion came after the board unanimously approved assuming the duties of the Village Review Board in cases where that board had no quorum.

Frizzle noted there are still two vacancies on the seven-member panel and appealed to the public for volunteers.

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