Adhering to its time limits on speakers, the Planning Board on Monday night for the first time completed an agenda related to review of Nordic Aquafarms.

The company is proposing to build a large land-based salmon farm on Route 1 properties near the Belfast/Northport line and adjacent to the Little River. Many speakers during the public hearings focused on the visual impacts from the Little River trail as well as from homes on Perkins Road.

A presentation by SMRT’s Andrew Bradley, who is working with Nordic, outlined the measures the company has taken to determine visual impacts on surrounding properties. Those efforts included using a yellow safety vest to show a 100-foot distance through the woods — the vest was barely visible through the trees — which Bradley said proves the large structures will not be visible through the 250-foot strip of city-owned trail. Balloons at a height of 45 feet (tallest allowed in the zoning district) were floated to determine roof heights and impacts. In the presentation, the balloons were connected with a heavier outline for better visibility on the screen.

“We have no adverse effect on the scenic look of the area,” Bradley said.

Planning Board members asked about the mix of trees along the Little River Trail, which Bradley said is a combination of evergreen and deciduous. Even with the leaves off, he said, “I don’t think you’d distinguish it as a building.”

John Krueger spoke on behalf of Upstream Watch and pointed to a bluff across the Little River in Northport on the McClellan-Poor Preserve as an area where the tops of buildings might be seen.

“These 50-foot tanks will be extremely visible,” he argued.

The property is owned by Coastal Mountains Land Trust and Krueger was asked by the board to provide a photograph of the view from the bluff. Computer renderings by SMRT showed the sight-lines from Northport being interrupted by existing trees and skimming over the projected tops of the facility buildings.

Mike Lannin of Northport asked about exhaust stacks for generators located on the property. Bradley said the stacks are not yet included on any plans but said they do need to rise above the buildings’ roof line.

“But it’s in the center, so shouldn’t be visible,” he said.

City Attorney Bill Kelly, who is advising the board through the Nordic application process, noted a new requirement has been added to the purchase and sale agreement between the company and Belfast Water District. It requires the company to retain the same visual aesthetics as currently exist from Route 1 passing by the property. As well, shared parking and guaranteed public access to the trail were added to the agreement, Kelly said.

He also noted there are no particular guidelines to determine if a company meets the visual buffer codes so the board can only determine if there’s an “undue adverse effect” on the view or habitat, or on the public rights to visual or physical access to the shoreline.

“There’s no specific guidance here,” Kelly said. “(Nordic) is taking reasonable measures, in my opinion, to address the scenic and natural beauty.”

“This project is not to preserve the land,” he added; it is to build a land-based salmon farm.

Board members asked several questions and offered suggestions to improve the plan such as more intensive plantings on the Perkins Road side of the property.

The bypass of Route 1 needed to install intake and discharge pipes also was discussed in terms of its visual impacts to the public. Existing trees in the area were described as 60-year-old pines, which Bradley noted would be nearly impossible to replace.

“That entire area will be replanted,” he said.

Board member Wayne Corey offered some positive feedback on Nordic’s visual impact plans.

“I think they did a pretty good job,” he said.

The board asked Nordic to provide additional information that includes a visual from Northport referenced by Krueger, a winter view of one angle that will be computer simulated and height of the generator exhaust stacks.

The existing dam was talked about, as well. Nordic has an option to purchase the dam and board members indicated removal of the structure would have to be approved by the board.

Nordic’s Project Manager Ed Cotter said the company is focused on the permitting process and will talk about water use during a future meeting. The company intends to use water from Little River, according Planning and Codes Director Wayne Marshall.

“Using water from the dam is to balance,” Cotter said.

Board members also talked about buffer requirements and setbacks. Marshall noted there are solid guidelines for the board to consult when it comes to required setbacks.

“There are specific numbers in the code as opposed to saying it’s just got to look good,” he said.

Bradley said there is a three-pronged approach to buffers and plantings that includes setbacks, existing vegetation or topography and enhanced plantings.

“The best way for us to approach it is to leave as much in place that’s already there,” he said.

One area of the property will be restored wetlands, according to Elizabeth Ransom from Ransom Consulting, who is also working with Nordic on the project.

Marshall pointed out an error on the plans that showed a 60-foot buffer where there should be a 75-foot buffer. Ransom said a 40-foot corridor for the intake and discharge pipes should be held for most of the excavation near Route 1 and said the company hopes to preserve as many large trees as possible. Marshall asked if the location of the pipe is set in stone.

“We’re here whether we like it or not,” Bradley responded, adding, “There’s not a lot of wiggle room.”

He said new plantings once Route 1 is returned to its original roadbed will be a mix of native plantings.

“It’s the front door,” he said. “They’re going to be very proud of this scene. … it’ll be the best looking 350 feet on Route 1.”

Residents brought up concerns about buffers during construction. Ellie Daniels, who owns property on Perkins Road, pointed out the face of building one is just 300 feet from her south-facing windows, which presents an “unimaginable and unreasonable interference with enjoyment of our property.”

“Shouldn’t it be reasonable to expect a buffer during construction?” she asked.

Daniels suggested the Planning Board do more research about the construction phase of the project before making any decisions.

“Clearly this is a big hole in the application,” she said.

Another abutter spoke about the view from Route 1 being fleeting because of the turns in the roadway. From Perkins Road, he said, the view already is commercial. Driving or walking by Mathews Brothers, all that’s visible is the side of the building, “a barbecue grill and a bunch of pickup trucks.”

Belfast resident Connie Hatch said the scale and equipment needed for the project will be disruptive.

“The quiet and tranquility along the Little River trail will be disturbed for two years, at least,” she said.

Christopher Hyk wondered, “How will they buffer the bay from the discharge from the pipe?”

Asked about security and construction fencing, as well as the possibility of planting trees on neighboring properties, Cotter said the company remains open to suggestions from the board.

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