As reported last week, the issue of 942 Main St. is at a standstill again. This is of little surprise to me, but not city leaders. Why and how can this be? The council approved spending $4,000 for a design work/ picture to see what the redeveloped private property would maybe look like. Elected and appointed officials have spent innumerable hours contemplating this property to no avail, while establishing rules (ordinances) that appear to the owner to be a major roadblock to their plan’s future. It is time to look at this situation and see why this has faltered.

First, let’s look at the premise of all this attention. This is a piece of private property, which is an important factor to keep in mind. We have been told that it is an eyesore, an opinion shared by many in city government. We have been told numerous people in and outside of government share this opinion. Have we ever been provided any evidence by elected or appointed officials as to that assertion? No.

These assertions are much like the Idexx 500 jobs that would not be filled due to the quarry issue. Anyone ever see the list of who refused a job? Does anyone ever report that the present tenant offered to paint it? No. Actually it looks better than it did when in production and smells better around it, but those are trivial facts that should not be in the way of anything – particularly the desire to sell the Mechanic Street former fire station, closed to save money and help with social engineering of the department, even though it is a repair facility now.

This is related to the expressed desire that we must have a “gateway” to the city from the western frontier of Maine. This is an egregious contributor to unfulfilled dreams of officials and planner dreams for this end of the city. Once again, have we been shown any evidence outside of city hall to support this? No. Like the jobs at Idexx, not one business has been reported to have not chosen Westbrook because of the lack of a gateway from the west. Anecdotal evidence gathered by observing the 7:30 a.m. rush hour through the intersection of Main Street and Route 25, past the eyesore, indicates the majority of drivers are too busy talking and texting while trying to get through traffic lights. The lack of a gateway does not appear to be a factor. The remaining part of day isn’t significantly different.

I have a suspicion that anyone that it does matter to would be arriving from the east end of town via the turnpike to city hall. Of course, if our mayor has her way, they will have difficulty finding it after it is moved. Another issue but related to the issues around 942 Main St. The issue is the role of government in planning and exercising that role.

I ask this question. Have we reached a point where the government has exceeded its role by our ordinances? Yes, I believe it has when the administration proposed and council approved accepting a $125,000 grant and $4,000 for possible demolition and design ideas, for what a piece of private property “might” look like if redeveloped. Along with a weak economy, this is why this is at a standstill again.

It is evident that the city’s involvement and ordinances are the roadblock that I believe most developers can see very nicely. I won’t say fail because that seems to be a concept our officials in city hall are reluctant to admit or be held accountable to. I re-emphasize the words private property. On the residential side of planning and zoning, enough damage has been done to neighborhoods, within the downtown residential growth zone fulfilling planners’ social engineering dreams. We should not allow the business end of planning to exceed its role, either.

Ask yourselves, if you want to build a garage on your house and ordinances say you can, will the city pay for a picture of it to see what it might look like if you build it?

It is time for the city to step aside and let the normal economics determine what will happen to that private property. It is also time for elected and appointed officials to cease expressing negative opinions about anyone’s private property. A desire to see something done is sufficient. A review of issues that might be hindering redevelopment is acceptable. An acknowledgement that nothing might be done and the existing owner has a right to redevelop or not at this time or anytime in the future, while contrary to official desire, just might be the answer at this time.

Bruce B. Libby

Westbrook


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