City needs better plan for sidewalks, large trees, officials say

By Ethan Andrews | Jul 20, 2017
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Missing sections of the brick trim on downtown sidewalks have been patched with asphalt as a quick fix for a feature city officials say has been hard to maintain.

Belfast — Piecemeal sidewalk repairs and tree maintenance isn't cutting it, but it might be necessary while the city makes a long-term plan, city officials said July 18.

Deliberations about a large maple tree at 220 Main St. have stretched over several City Council meetings. Douglas Beitler, who bought the property this month, has asked to have it removed because of rot. The council, which has a history of trying to save shade trees, was hesitant to declare the tree finished after conflicting advice from arborists who said, despite a seam of rot on the side facing away from the street, the roughly 150-year-old tree is still strong.

Green's Tree Service submitted a quote to remove the tree for $5,000. The city's tree maintenance budget is up this year to $11,000 from $8,000, but several councilors argued that won't be nearly enough considering the number of trees of the same age as the one in question.

The Council tabled the question of what to do with the tree at 220 Main St. until they get more information and consider a more comprehensive inventory of trees that need work.

Falling behind on sidewalks

After a recent inspection of downtown sidewalks, Councilor Mike Hurley and City Manager Joe Slocum reported that upkeep hasn't kept pace with needed repairs. In particular, they said, the decorative curbside bricks on Main and High streets tend to heave and break up in the winters, and they freeze before the rest of the sidewalk, creating a hazard for pedestrians.

The council voted to continue spot repairs in places where bricks are missing while working on a long-term plan for downtown sidewalks. Slocum said that could include getting rid of the bricks altogether for sidewalks like those newly built on Cross and Front streets.

In other business, the council:

• Approved changes to the city's sewer ordinance. The new rules emphasize increased usage, such as when a restaurant expands, where previously they were based only on new connections. Along with the shift, the city will charge a $75 fee for new connections, after which applicants will immediately be on the hook for regular sewer payments. In the past, billing did not begin until the connection was made. City Planner Wayne Marshall said the new fee structure puts Belfast in line with other similarly sized municipalities in Maine. Total permit proceeds in the past three years ranged from $3,600 to $7,000. Marshall said the new rules would bring in slightly more than double the revenue of the old ones. This money would be set aside for capital improvements to the sewer system and wastewater treatment plant.

• Gave final approval to the 2017-18 city budget. The bottom line is up less than 1 percent from last year. The city manager noted that 70 percent of Belfast property taxes go to county government and Regional School Unit 71, both of which, he said, increased by a larger percentage than the city's share.

• Appointed members to city committees: Will Martell, Roger Lee, Zafra Whitcomb and Doug Chamberlain (Broadband), Jonathan Fulford and Matt O'Malia (Energy), Robin Kruger and Kay Zegal (Library trustees).

• Approved a 180-day extension to a moratorium on new marijuana-related businesses. The moratorium was enacted in January to block applications while the state drafted rules for the referendum-approved legalization of marijuana. City Planner Wayne Marshall noted that Belfast eventually could follow other municipalities, including Searsport, that have gone ahead and banned retail marijuana stores and social clubs. The planning office has received some inquiries about opening such businesses, he said. "My response to them is, don't buy anything, don't rent any property until we know what's going on," he said.

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