Council demands easement, cancels votes on waterfront development

Standoff puts restaurant, marina and market complex on hold
By Ethan Andrews | Feb 06, 2019
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Mayor Samantha Paradis talks to waterfront developer Paul Naron before inviting him into a closed-door City Council meeting Feb. 5 that earlier had devolved into a shouting match.

Belfast — After a heated executive session with United Farmers Market of Maine owner Paul Naron, the City Council on Feb. 5 cancelled two scheduled votes that would have allowed Naron to move ahead with plans for a major waterfront development.

The council met behind closed doors for more than an hour before voting to cancel first and second readings of a contract rezoning agreement for Naron's properties at 7 and 15 Front St.

Naron and real estate broker Mike Cunning were invited in for portions of the session. As the private talks escalated to a semi-public shouting match among several councilors and Naron, the topic became evident to members of the public waiting outside the Council Chambers.

Parties on both sides later confirmed that the city is seeking a permanent easement for the Harbor Walk, which crosses both of Naron's properties, and councilors are refusing to approve a contract rezoning agreement that would allow Naron to move forward with his plan for a complex that includes two restaurants, a marina and a new home for the farmers market, now on Spring Street.

Naron quit the meeting at one point and left City Hall, but returned later and burst into the Council Chambers uninvited. After being told to leave, he was briefed outside by Mayor Samantha Paradis, who asked him to remain civil as a condition of being invited in again.

Between sessions, he vented, saying he had offered the city a 20-year lease at $1 per year and was turned down cold. He contrasted his offer with the agreement the city recently signed with Penobscot McCrum to bring the Rail Trail across the edge of the potato processing company's land — a retroactive five-year lease at $5,000 per year with reimbursements for past work.

"I, under my own free will, opened this waterfront," Naron said, referring to his decision to open the walkway shortly after he bought the first property. "They never even talked to me."

City Councilor Mike Hurley, speaking the next morning, was quick to point out that the two situations are different. In the case of Penobscot McCrum there was no alternative route, he said. The only other option was eminent domain, which the city nearly invoked before reaching an agreement for a lease.

The properties at 7 and 15 Front St., last owned by French & Webb and Consumers Fuel Co., stood in the way of the Harbor Walk at the time of its construction in 2012 and 2013, Hurley said, but an alternate route was available, so the walkway was built with a detour along Front Street.

Naron's properties are subject to contract rezoning, a system that allows a property owner to propose a wider range of uses than might otherwise be allowed, while giving the City Council final authority to approve or reject any aspects of the plan.

Asked if the city is withholding rezoning approval until Naron grants a permanent public easement, Hurley reframed the question.

"It's not like a trade," he said. "That's not how it works. Contract rezoning is a negotiation, because everything he's proposing is not permitted on that property."

The next day, Naron lamented getting into it with the council. He had been frustrated, he said.

"They're all trying," he said. "They all got their reasons for what they do. I don't take anything personal. I just want to get things done and do it the right way."

Naron said he received a call from City Manager Joe Slocum on Wednesday asking to meet that day. Slocum would not confirm the meeting plan with The Republican Journal, saying he does not discuss his schedule.

Hurley remained unmoved on the matter of the easement, but he said city officials are still excited about Naron's plans.

"We're talking about these things and we certainly had a good conversation last night," he said. "You probably could have heard it from Darby's. Other than that it's still underway. We hope it goes through."

Naron was out of town for much of the next week. Speaking on Feb. 11 he said nothing had changed but he expects negotiations to continue.

Comments (2)
Posted by: EDWIN (BUD) NESBIT | Feb 07, 2019 09:18

I certainly am.  Don't our taxes pay this guy?



Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Feb 07, 2019 09:09

Is anyone else concerned that the City manager is unwilling to "discuss his schedule" with the local press?????



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