Front Street Shipyard expansion proposal met with optimism, concern

Residents pleased with company's success, concerned about parking, harbor access
By Ben Holbrook | Dec 06, 2012

Belfast — A proposal by Front Street Shipyard to expand its operations onto city land raised questions from councilors and residents about the impact of allowing one company to control a significant portion of the waterfront, as well as how to address future development of Thompson Wharf.

Front Street Shipyard President J.B. Turner explained to councilors and the audience that packed City Hall that the company is looking at acquiring a piece of property upon which to construct a new building. The building would stand about six feet higher than the existing building number 5 and be able to accommodate a 330-ton Travelift.

Building 5 is about 55 feet high at its peak, and the proposed building would be about 61 feet high at its peak. Except for the height difference, the two buildings would be similar in design, Turner said.

Front Street Shipyard would also add a third leg to its pier in order to support the larger Travelift when hauling vessels, Turner said. Per federal and state regulations, new pilings can only be driven between Jan. 1 and April 15, so as not to disturb migrating salmon populations.

Front Street Shipyard considered three properties, which included redesigning the existing building number 5, purchasing the parking lot directly next to building number 5 or purchasing land near the former Belfast Maskers' Theater building. Of those three options, Turner said the parking lot was the one the company favors, although it still has downsides.

“All of the locations have downsides and upsides –– some more than others,” Turner said during his presentation. “The parking lot makes the most sense.”

The layout of the company's property is such that building number 1 is located closest to the Armistice Bridge and building number number 5 is closest to the Maskers' property. The remaining three buildings are located between the first and fifth buildings.

If the company receives approval to build an additional building, Turner estimates that about 40 additional jobs would be created as a result. Turner said the company would seek to hire locally, and noted that Front Street Shipyard will be offering internships, as the company has been in touch with vocational schools in the area.

Public comment

While the proposal was generally well received by councilors and residents, some concerns were raised about the diversity of Belfast’s economy and access to the inner harbor.

Belfast resident Joanne Boynton said that while she is a fan of the shipyard, she is concerned that the city would be relinquishing too much waterfront property to one business. She said if the city sells its property then it could miss out on a different opportunity to develop the area down the road.

“None of us can predict the future,” Boynton said.

Steve Garrand, owner of a small boat repair and rigging business in Belfast, presented the City Council with a plan for a small service marina that would be located in the harbor. Garrand told councilors that he is concerned the steady expansion of commercial boat-building facilities is taxing the limited dock space available in the city, as well as access to the inner harbor. Garrand asked councilors to consider his concerns before making a decision regarding the shipyard’s proposal.

While some residents cautioned councilors to proceed carefully with a decision, other residents expressed their pleasure with having Front Street Shipyard in Belfast. Mike Stein said he thinks the proposal from Front Street Shipyard is a win-win for the city, and noted that the parking lot, which has parking for up to 96 vehicles, was built for the Belfast and Moosehead Lake railroad.

“It really is not used by the general public,” Stein said of the lot.

Council questions

At the conclusion of Turner’s presentation, Councilor Eric Sanders asked for some insight into the scope of work the shipyard is performing and asked for some “real dollar amounts” in terms of what the yacht owners are spending.

Turner said that, prior to 2008, many boatyards were building brand-new boats, at the request of customers. However, after 2008, new construction slowed down and instead, owners opted to spend more money on retrofitting their existing boats, Turner said.

One of the recent projects the shipyard is completing is an overhaul of a yacht at the request of the owner. The yacht received new engines and generators, a new electronics system, and a new paint job, both inside and out. In total, Turner estimated the overhaul cost about $5 million.

The shipyard also recently serviced an 86-foot vessel for $800,000.

“Some people spend some money, thankfully,” Turner said.

Councilor Mary Mortier questioned how the city is going to address parking in the future, noting that there is already limited space available along that portion of the waterfront. Councilor Mike Hurley voiced similar concerns about the amount of available space along the waterfront. However, he acknowledged that the space issue is a positive development.

“This is a great problem to have. You have a growth problem,” Hurley said.

Environmental audit

Councilors approved a request from Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge to pursue funding through the state to conduct a Phase II environmental site assessment.

In addition, a Hazardous Materials Inventory would be conducted on the Belfast Maskers' building and a remedial action plan would be developed as part of the funding request. Kittredge estimated that the environmental site assessment for the parking lot could be completed within 30 days and the remaining assessments would be completed within the following months.

The primary goal of the assessment is to determine the extent of any contaminants in the area and what it would cost to address those issues.

During a previous interview with the Republican Journal, City Planner Wayne Marshall said the contaminants present in the soils beneath the parking lot are consistent with the way the property was previously used. Because the railroad operated in the area, as well as a fuel company, Marshall said, the contaminants consist of hydrocarbons –– motor oil, paint and gasoline.

Parking lot appraisal

Marshall requested the Council to approve a request to hire Fred Buckland to appraise the value of the Front Street parking lot and the Maskers' property. Marshall said Bucklin has experience appraising properties that range from a single-family residence up to $200 million estates. The parking lot appraisal would be completed by Feb. 1, 2013, with the Maskers' property appraisal to follow.

Hurley asked how the value of the parking lot would be determined, to which Marshall said Buckland would take into consideration the adjacency value –– because the property is directly next to Front Street Shipyard it has a higher value to the company –- as well as any contamination factors.

Councilors unanimously approved spending $5,500 to complete the appraisals. The money will be taken from an account designated by City Manager Joseph Slocum, who said he would tell councilors which account the money was taken from during their Dec. 18 meeting.

Thompson Wharf

Turner told councilors Front Street Shipyard has an interest in Thompson Wharf, but any proposals for the property would come at a later date. Giving a brief outline of the possibilities for the wharf, Turner suggested the layout could be adjusted to accommodate additional boats. Turner suggested connecting Thompson Wharf to the Belfast Boatyard property to create additional space.

Turner noted that the idea for the wharf was in the very early stages, and Front Street Shipyard cobbled together a possible plan Tuesday, Dec. 4, for the meeting.

To be continued

The proposal by Front Street Shipyard will go to the Harbor Committee, Planning Board and City Council for additional meetings before a decision is made. Mayor Walter Ash Jr. assured the audience that there would be opportunities throughout the process for residents to weigh in during scheduled public hearings.

Councilor Roger Lee encouraged his colleagues to find a way to streamline the process as much as possible, saying he did not want to see the project dragged out for six to eight months.

“I’m behind this, as long as we do this right,” he said.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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