THE VIEW from 946 Mere Point Road in Brunswick.

THE VIEW from 946 Mere Point Road in Brunswick.

On Monday, the Brunswick Town Council is slated to decide the fate of a 4-acre waterfront parcel it owns at 946 Mere Point Road. The Town foreclosed on this property five years ago following a fair and lawful process, and is now rightfully considering next steps.

In June, the Council commissioned a committee review process to evaluate the possible benefits of keeping the Mere Point property. After thorough deliberation, the key committees determined (by unanimous votes) that the property offers significant current and potential benefit to all citizens of the Town and should be kept for a public access site. These findings are consistent with a stated priority of Brunswick’s current Comprehensive Plan which calls for “maintaining existing public water access points and acquiring new water access whenever feasible.”

So why is there any question about accepting the committee recommendations and honoring the directives of the Comprehensive Plan?

Some claim that Brunswick already has too much public access to the Atlantic Ocean and that we’ve gotten more in recent years. The problem is that not all public access is created equal. The Recreation Commission made it clear that the Town of Brunswick currently has no sanctioned places for the public to swim in the ocean. As for clamming access, since the town created its comprehensive plan in 2008, clamming access has actually decreased in Brunswick. The Marine Resources Committee Chairman made this very clear to the Town Council. Public boat launches are nice, and the Town has a few, but not everyone has a boat, and these sites don’t allow swimming and other uses for safety reasons.

Some claim it’s too expensive to keep this property (remember, the Town already owns it). The Town estimates that it will cost $3,500 to maintain this property annually. Even if you add in the Town’s estimate of forgone tax revenue of $10,000 per year, this totals $13,500. This equates to about 65 cents per citizen to keep its only western facing (incredible sunset views) public space overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. We have 61 miles of shoreline in Brunswick, and we have this one unique spot at 946 Mere Point Rd. Even if I was to enjoy just one sunset on this property, it would easily be worth the 65 cents per year to me. Ocean sunsets are priceless, and an especially rare privilege in Brunswick.

Some claim converting this property to some form of public use will destroy the value of neighboring properties. Regarding real estate values, typically open space and conservation land increases neighboring real estate values. In this case it is fortunate that the property is densely wooded on both borders, and the area where visitors would enjoy views to the ocean is barely visible from the two neighboring houses—thus any impacts could be minimized. The neighbors’ concerns for privacy and safety are legitimate, but can be addressed. The Town should be sure to include their input in a comprehensive process to determine the best form of public access for this location.

So, looked at objectively, it is hard to imagine that the Council would vote to sell this property. Brunswick has become a destination for retirees, career minded young folks, vacationers, and many others. One of the biggest reasons for this is the coastal character of our Town. This is a golden opportunity to make good on the promise that Brunswick offers, and prepare for the future.

The fact is that the Town does not have the quantity or quality of public access to the ocean that our citizens want and need (and like it or not, average citizens simply can’t afford to own waterfront property). The fact is that keeping 946 Mere Point Road represents a bargain for the Town as it continues to build its reputation as a desirable coastal community. The fact is that the neighbors to this property might actually benefit from keeping it an open public space (and may make some new friends in the process). Councilors, please vote to keep 946 Mere Point Road for your citizens.

Richard Knox is a resident of Brunswick.

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