BRUNSWICK — Brunswick Town Council voted 6 – 2, with one councilor absent, to set a public hearing on Nov. 20 to discuss the closing of a section of Pine Street that runs adjacent to Bowdoin College’s Whittier Field, allowing the school to construct a new 9,000-square-foot athletic facility.

Bowdoin would create a new side street running from the eastern end of Bowker Street to Bath Road to provide residents a new egress, and would also grant an easement to the nearby cemetery for portions of the street so people could continue to have access.

All costs for the project would be covered by the college.

Council was cautious of moving forward on the proposal, and wanted to ensure residents understood its implications, so a public hearing was set. But a state statute requires that council approve and file for discontinuance of the road before any public hearings are held, according to Kristin Collins, the town’s attorney.

While filing for discontinuance seems to imply the town is moving forward with the plan, in reality it would take a public hearing and further deliberation before any action is taken.

“The language of the state statute is unfortunate,” said Collins.

Councilor Jane Millett was adamant that residents are informed about how to make their voices heard.

“I am concerned about the appearance that we are approving this without having had any kind of formal public input session,” she said. “This is not a done deal. I would want us to be very very explicit with that.”

The decision by Bowdoin to put the athletic facility on a portion of Pine Street was made after extensive public input from nearby residents, according to Bowdoin’s Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Matt Orlando. Originally, the plan was to build the facility along Bowker Street.

“Through the meetings we had with the neighbors, it became very clear that there was a strong preference that any development happen on the other (Pine Street) side of the field,” said Orlando. “That really is the ideal site for this 9,000-square-foot facility.”

The town, and Bowdoin, also hired traffic consultants to review what impact the proposed changes could have on the neighborhood. Part of Bowdoin’s proposal includes creating a new street that would connect Bath Road. Some neighbors raised concerns that the new street would become a thoroughfare for drivers looking to avoid the traffic lights further on Bath Road.

Both consultants reached a similar conclusion: Most drivers will stick to the main route.

“They’re not going to save any time, it’s not going to be any more convenient, it’s going to be less convenient,” said Diane Morabito, of Maine Traffic Resources. “The only people it might benefit are people in the neighborhood.”

Councilors Steve Walker and John Perreault – the two negative votes on the proposal – were concerned about a lack of public input before the public hearing process.

“I think this plan should have had a formal workshop,” said Walker. He added that members of the public who were concerned about the earlier changes Bowdoin had made to Whittier Field may have overlooked the potential removal of Pine Street.

“I think it’s unfair to the public to unveil that at a public hearing,” said Walker.

Town staff contrasted that by saying the public had multiple opportunities to be informed of the project, including a few well-attended public meetings and a site walk. Both those events were properly noticed, with the town going beyond the legal requirement to ensure they captured as many people as possible.

“We had quite a few planning board members there; it was to get a feel for the terrain,” said Anna Breinich, director of planning and development, of the site walk.

The public will have the chance to speak out on the proposal at the Nov. 20 public hearing. Legally, council cannot make any decisions on the proposal until at least 10 days after the hearing.

Written comments on the issue will also be accepted.

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