The standoff between developer Paul Naron and city councilors over Harbor Walk access showed signs of compromise Tuesday night, as both sides expressed interest in further negotiations.

However, the work session did not start off with conciliatory tones, as attorney Ed Bearor spoke on behalf of Naron.

“Your permanent easement price is too steep,” he said, later adding, “We are this far apart right now and there’s a lot of room in the middle. … We don’t want to waste anyone’s time if it’s a permanent easement or nothing.”

Naron is seeking contract rezoning of his properties at 7 and 15 Front St., which must be approved by the council before his development plans can proceed. He hopes to construct two restaurants and a marina, and to relocate United Farmers Market from its current spot on Spring Street.

Contract rezoning talks came to an abrupt halt after an executive session between the two parties in February during which tempers — and voices — rose. At the council work session April 2, more details emerged about the conflict.

Councilors remain adamant they will not accept Naron’s offer of a 180-day termination clause, which they say equates to a 6-month renewable lease. Naron, too, dug in his heels, refusing to agree to an easement in perpetuity. Both sides accused the other of using the Harbor Walk as leverage and expressed frustration about the lack of trust of each other.

Last week, Naron installed signs along the Harbor Walk where it crosses his properties, urging residents to turn out and support his negotiation efforts with the city. It appeared to work, as City Council chambers were packed and an adjacent room opened to allow remote viewing of the session. Mayor Samantha Paradis said the number of people attending was a pleasant change from most work sessions, though no public comment was allowed.

Councilor Neal Harkness said while he supports the project, he cannot approve an agreement that does not protect the future of the Harbor Walk. He noted the city has agreed to several conditions as part of the contract rezoning process, including fewer parking spaces than typically are required, as well as a larger marina than normally allowed.

“Compromise, compromise, compromise, stone wall — that’s what it looks like to me,” he said.

Fellow Councilor Eric Sanders agreed protecting future access is key.

“It is important to me that we give the future the best chance for a walk in that area,” he said. “It’s not that we are unamendable to negotiations.”

Lack of faith was brought up by Councilor Mike Hurley, who  also spoke about revitalization of the waterfront area around the two properties purchased by Naron.

“Over the last 36 years, it’s really been transformed around your property,” Hurley said.

He expressed disbelieve that Naron received no indication the city would seek an easement for the Harbor Walk, as did other councilors who pointed to long-term plans mentioning a waterfront walkway.  Hurley said that, in private conversations with Naron, he advised him of the plans for the Harbor Walk.

“You opened it up and you’re perfectly capable of closing it down,” he said. “ … You’re playing hardball and I get it.”

Councilor Mary Mortier cited several mentions of a waterfront walkway from the 1994 Belfast Renaissance Plan and said the importance of the Harbor Walk is common knowledge in the city.

“We’re stewards of city property and lands for future generations and that does not mean short term,” she said. Bearor responded that city officials could not be stewards of land the city does not own.

While Councilor Paul Dean said he supports Naron and feels it is important to not only represent citizens but also businesses as a councilor, he, too, said he could not accept any short-term agreement.

“One hundred eighty days, the ink’s hardly dry,” he said, later adding, “By gosh, I’d like to have a walkway we can count on.”

Bearor noted the idea of the 180 days came from another Harbor Walk agreement — that of Penobscot McCrum, with which negotiations several years ago nearly led to the city talking property by eminent domain for the Harbor Walk before an agreement was reached.

“From a practical point of view, I’m not going to give it up permanently,” Naron said.

He said the city should be happy to pay him a requested $1 per year to retain access.

“You guys have your goals and I understand that you want it forever,” Naron said.

City officials noted that Naron also has mentioned potential future uses of the property, including a hotel, and that the location of the Harbor Walk across his properties is fluid as development proceeds.

“Mr. Naron has made clear he needs the leverage for future needs, uses of the property,” Mortier said. When City Manager Joe Slocum noted the city controls land use, Naron retorted, “That sounds like leverage to me.”

Both sides also pointed to recent newspaper stories as painting an extreme picture of negotiations.

“I don’t think we are as far apart as it appears in the newspapers,” Bearor said.

Harkness later said he would be willing to attend and participate “in as many meetings like this as it takes so we don’t have negotiation in the newspapers.”

After some discussion of advice from the city attorney to councilors suggesting limited communications between the parties outside public settings, councilors and Naron agreed to continue talking about options. With Naron stating he is not certain his intents reach councilors concisely, it was agreed Dean would sit in on meetings between Naron and city staff as negotiations continue.

“I see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel,” Hurley said. “I’m not sure if it’s a light or a train (but) I’m prepared for both.”