WISCASSET — The Maine Department of Transportation filed documents this month with the Lincoln County Commissioner announcing its intent to acquire the “Haggets Garage” property on Water Street by eminent domain as part of a proposed project to ease traffic flow on Route 1.
The acquisition of the building at 36 Water St. will provide space for a parking lot as part of the potential Route 1 project that MDOT has been working on for over a year. The plan – which includes eliminating parking spaces on Main Street, installing traffic lights and crosswalks, and other changes – has been heavily opposed by some residents.
The building acquisition is also opposed by its current tenants: Midcoast Conservancy. A letter sent by the conservancy to MDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt indicates the nonprofit would prefer to keep the building intact and continue using it.
“We believe that there’s an opportunity to include that building in the plans. We would like to sit down and have a conversation with open minds to discuss what that might look like,” said Jody Jones, executive director of Midcoast Conservancy.
The conservancy is renting the building from Coastal Enterprises Inc, and has exercised an option to purchase the property with a closing date of April 30.
MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot said the eminent domain filing was mainly an effort to prevent the conservancy from investing in the property. MDOT and CEI have agreed on a purchase price and the property is now in state hands. MDOT also indicated it would work with Midcoast Conservancy to help the group relocate.
“CEI has had the property listed for sale for quite some time, and there was a tenant occupying space in the building. Recently, we were made aware that CEI had granted the tenant an option to purchase and that the tenant intended to exercise the option,” said Talbot. “Maine DOT went ahead with the long-planned acquisition to avoid further uncertainty about the property and to prevent the owner or the tenant from making further investments in the property that might not be compensable.”
Recently, residents submitted a petition that would send the MDOT project to a referendum vote in June. The petition was submitted by the Wiscasset Taxpayers Alliance, a citizen group formed in response to MDOT’s proposal.
A main sticking point for the taxpayer alliance is the non-binding vote in June 2016 that indicated majority support for the plan, which has since been altered, said Bill Sutter, spokesman for the alliance.
“MDOT has made several significant unilateral changes to the project presented to Wiscasset citizens in the non-binding referendum last June,” Sutter said.
Among those changes are a withdrawal of federal funding for the project, and the elimination of a parking lot planned for the “Creamery Wharf.”
Despite the upcoming referendum, MDOT is “continuing with its work on the project” and is planning to hold an informational meeting May 8 about a parking layout.
“The meeting will focus on these items only,” said Talbot. “We cannot speculate at this point about what might happen in the future.”
When asked whether MDOT would halt the project if a referendum vote indicated a lack of support, Talbot declined to speculate.
“This is an important project for the midcoast region that has received broad support within the town,” he said. “There has been ample opportunity for public participation during the design phase of the project, and the public is encouraged to attend the informational meeting on May 8. At this point we will not speculate about issues that may or may not arise in the future.”
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