The City Council approved the first reading of a contract rezoning agreement for developer Paul Naron’s Front Street properties after hashing out last-minute details.

The Oct. 1 discussion was much shorter than previous debates with Naron’s attorney Joe Baiungo. The first reading approval is the result of a compromise for a permanent easement for the Harbor Walk across Naron’s two properties.

Director of Codes and Planning Wayne Marshall briefed councilors on recent changes to the view easement, as well as a storm plan for the marina’s extended dock and a Harbor Committee review.

Councilors added wording to the view easement that protects existing trees on two pieces of city property adjacent to Naron’s. The trees are not expected to get much taller, according to Parks and Recreation Director Norm Poirier.

The Harbor Committee suggested Naron have a storm plan for his marina dock, which  extends farther into the bay than normally allowed under city  zoning,  that outlines circumstances for its removal from the water for harbor safety. The committee suggested a ramp or something similar for easy removal.

The previous owner of Naron’s properties spoke against a storm plan requirement. He said that weather never caused damage to his dock and his dock never created damage to other properties during storms.

He said he isn’t aware of any other businesses on the harbor that the city requires have a storm plan.

Naron’s properties are located in the Waterfront Mixed Use district. The contract rezoning terms define seating capacity for two proposed restaurants and the type of retail businesses allowed. Additional terms allow a multipurpose retail space and up to a 20,000-square-foot expansion without additional contract rezoning, and grants the option to create four residential units.

Naron and councilors have been in negotiations since early 2019. Naron initially refused to give the city a permanent easement for the Harbor Walk and instead offered a short-term agreement. Councilors opposed a short-term agreement and speculated that the next property owner might revoke public use of the Harbor Walk, resulting in revival of the uphill path to Front Street around the properties.

Baiungo argued that it was illegal to tie a permit approval or denial to a permanent easement and that the city would lose if it went to court.

In August, the city almost denied the contract rezoning agreement outright. But at the last minute Naron, through his attorney, reached out to continue negotiations for a permanent easement and extra contract rezoning privileges.

The council decided to let the Harbor Committee have one more look at the agreement before the council’s second reading on Tuesday, Oct. 15.