The City Council continued a debate with Paul Naron’s attorney Tuesday night about property easements across two of the developer's Front Street properties.

The city has been in discussions with Naron for months about gaining a permanent easement for the Harbor Walk — which currently both crosses and goes around Naron's properties. Talks have reached a stalemate. To date, Naron appears to be unwilling to give the city the access it wants to his properties.

The negotiations are holding up applications Naron filed for two large restaurants on properties at 7 and 15 Front St.

The Planning Board approved extending a wharf line into the harbor beyond the regulated 200 feet, a permanent easement across city land for transportation access to the water and reducing the parking space requirement from 159 to 65 spaces on his properties. However, council approval also is required because the waterfront properties are designated for contract rezoning, a procedure that allows developers flexibility while giving the city control over how a property is developed.

Naron's attorney, Joe Baiungo, has argued repeatedly that it is not legal for the city to tie property interest negotiations to permit applications. However, he has suggested that the city tie the permits to a legal agreement that requires Naron to keep the Harbor Walk open to the public on his properties or the permits can be withdrawn.

Baiugno said after the meeting that he can’t predict what Naron will do if the applications are denied, but acknowledged Naron could sell the properties, both of which he purchased in 2017.

“I’m sorry that you feel that the listing for sale, somehow, is a little bit of a bitter taste, but I think, just being honest about it, that’s one of the things that may be happening,” Baiungo said. “If the council denies him his permit … that’s what he may do.”

The two properties were listed for sale with Worth Real Estate for $3.5 million but have since been taken off the market, the agency confirmed this week. Naron declined to comment on Baiungo’s statement and said only that he “doesn’t know what’s going to happen at this point.”

The City Council has shared concerns about Naron selling the properties or becoming incapacitated. That would force the property easement process to begin again with a new owner, who might close the Harbor Walk access across the properties.

Naron's property at 15 Front St. was formerly owned by Consumer Fuels and was used for coal storage in the past. The building at 7 Front St. was last owned by French & Webb boat builders and was used as a workshop. When the Harbor Walk was built in 2013, the two properties had different owners and the walkway was routed around them on Front Street. Naron opened a more direct route to the public, on his own terms, shortly after he bought 15 Front St. in 2017.

“My concern is post-Paul … what happens if something happens to Paul tomorrow, or next year, or years from now and that’s what concerns me,” Councilor Neal Harkness said.

Baiungo told councilors they are not qualified to tell Naron how he should feel about his business or how to run it.

“Mr. Naron’s been a very successful businessman,” Baiungo said. “I don’t think it’s my job or the council's job to tell him how to use that business, that property, the $3 million he’s spent down there and why in his opinion it’s important for him to retain that right to himself.”

City Manager Joe Slocum was quick to note the special exceptions already approved for the properties if Naron agrees to the permanent easement and the City Council's legislative authority to change zoning regulations.

“Mr. Naron is not being told what to do," Slocum said. "Mr. Naron is asking for a lot of special permissions that the lower group, like the Planning Board, have recommended that we give those permissions subject to negotiations with this council. … And this council is trying to negotiate for a permanent easement and it is a legal act.”

Councilor Mary Mortier said she has received more input on this issue than any other issue in her time on the City Council.

“I received the most public comment, in written and verbal form, that I have on any issue in the seven and a half years … that I’ve been on the council,” Mortier said. “ … And the constant comment … written in many different ways, was ‘hold firm, this is important. This is important to our children. This is important to the future, don’t back down.’”

Councilors expressed concern about voting on the permits until they can speak with Belfast City Attorney Bill Kelly, with whom they’ve previously consulted regarding access to the Naron property.