BELFAST — The overwhelming opinion of those residents in attendance at the City Council’s Nov. 29 work session to discuss the Belfast Yards property is that either nothing should be done to the property, which is currently used as a parking lot, or whatever is done should be for maritime uses only.

Belfast City Council called the work session and included several city committee members, local business leaders and residents. Over the last few months, councilors have discussed amongst themselves what to do with the Belfast Yards property. The Nov. 29 meeting was specifically designed to allow for public comment on the property.

To organize the discussion, the council created five categories of talking points for residents: The role of the city, financial issues and ownership, residential uses, commercial uses, and layout and design.
From the outset, residents and business leaders were very specific regarding their vision for the property.

Front Street Shipyard President and General Manager JB Turner initially told the council he would not want to see the Belfast Yards property, located at 45 Front St., sold through a real estate agent. He said any project developed at the site needs to be controlled and well thought out.

Harbor Committee member Dan Miller agreed that the city should maintain ownership of the property in order to retain decision-making authority.

In addition to not selling the property, residents were also clear that they wanted the space limited to marine uses — as it is near the inner harbor and Thompson’s Wharf — and they were very much against a proposal by some city councilors to put residential properties on the lot.

Local resident and lobsterman David Black said that during a meeting many years ago, the city outlined — as its number one priority — a working waterfront. He said the Belfast Yards property is a huge asset to the working waterfront as it currently is. He implored the city not to sell the property and said it was needed for parking and as a staging area for marine-related businesses that already call the harbor home.

Harbor Committee member Joanne Moesswilde read from an approved statement from the committee that recommended the City Council concentrate on uses that exploit the marine potential for the property. The recommendations also included not building structures on the lot.

Moesswilde said that if the city’s goal is to raise revenue, a number of things could be done on the lot that the city could charge for, including special marine projects like boat refitting, winter boat storage, paid parking access for Thompson’s Wharf, and parking access for a water taxi service. The lot could also be used for pop-up activities like an open air market or concerts.

“If we don’t build it, they will come and they will have a place to park,” she said.

Harbormaster Kathy Given added that any mixed-use ideas that are not compatible with marine uses, such as apartments, would not be a good idea.

Turner called apartments near the harbor a “horrible idea” and said anyone who would live there would have to deal with the sounds and smells of a working waterfront.

Resident and lobsterman Terrance Faulkingham also told the council that homes should not go down into that area and that it should be maintained for a maritime purpose and to allow access to Thompson’s Wharf.

Former Mayor Walter Ash Jr. spoke near the end of the meeting and was very direct in his point of view. He said discussion on Belfast Yards has been going on for 10 to 15 years. He said if the city is going to develop any properties, that development should be on Main Street.

“There is no reason to have it down there (Belfast Yards),” he said.

Ash said he was very much opposed to the most common idea discussed by the council, that the area be developed into small shops or businesses, calling the proposal “totally wrong.”

Other residents brought up the issue of the property being in the floodplain and the prediction that water levels along the coast will continue to rise.

While most of the council members simply thanked those in attendance for their input, Councilor Mike Hurley went through several of the points brought up by those in attendance. Hurley said he felt that there was a place at the property for housing and did not think complaints for noise would be a reason to stop such a project.

Directing his comments to those wanting the city to do nothing on the property, he said nature and the city do not like a vacuum and that eventually someone would come up with a project that the City Council might approve.

Prior to that, Hurley noted several instances where the city has made bad decisions in the past.

Ultimately, no decision was made Nov. 29.  The council plans to continue discussion on the matter, with additional public meetings to be scheduled in the future.