YARMOUTH — Despite having questions and a few initial reservations about the costs involved, the Town Council unanimously approved continuing the BREEZ commuter bus service.

At its Aug. 15 meeting, the council also agreed to adopt a Main Street Master Plan, which covers the length of the street between Elm Street and Marina Drive.

The BREEZ bus that runs between Portland, Yarmouth and points north has been “very successful,” according to Greater Portland Metro, which operates the service. But to continue the route, Yarmouth had to agree to join the Metro board and “pay its fair share,” Town Manager Nat Tupper said at an Aug. 1 workshop.

He said without Yarmouth’s participation it would “be a whole new equation” for the remaining communities, which include Freeport and Brunswick.

A three-year pilot project to test the viability of the bus service is coming to an end Dec. 31. Keeping the BREEZ rolling will cost the town nearly $78,000 annually starting in fiscal year 2021, Tupper said. Freeport and Brunswick would pay similar amounts.

At the Aug. 1 meeting, Councilor Tim Shannon said the decision to continue the bus seemed like an easy one, especially because Yarmouth was not being asked to invest in any new infrastructure.

But Councilor Rob Waeldner said he had a lot of questions and also felt there should be more time for the public to weigh in. He wanted to push the vote back to September, but Tupper said doing so would put the bus service in jeopardy.

Many of the councilors’ questions were answered at an Aug. 5 Operations Committee meeting, which paved the way for last week’s vote to continue the bus.

According to Metro, annual BREEZ ridership is about 16,000, and it has increased each of the past three years. In a prior interview, Denise Beck, director of marketing at Metro, said the commuter bus “has exceeded expectations by more than 40% (and it’s) often necessary to use larger buses on the route to accommodate our passengers.”

There are three BREEZ stops in Yarmouth. The most popular is in front of Town Hall on Main Street, Beck said. The other two stops are the Exit 15 Park & Ride lot off Interstate 295 and the Hannaford grocery store on Route 1.

Main Street plan

In background materials provided to councilors at their Aug. 15 meeting, Tupper said a group of residents has been working with town staff and consultant Terrence J. DeWan & Associates over the past year to develop a Main Street Master Plan.

Prior to its initial presentation to the council this past spring, two public hearings were held on the plan and the public was also invited to provide input on a rendering of the plan that’s hanging at Town Hall, Tupper added.

Councilors approved the plan last week, but said they could not support funding engineering studies to determine the feasibility of putting Main Street utilities underground. While some members of the Main Street committee support the idea of moving utilities, a majority of the council felt it would be both too difficult and costly.

In introducing the Main Street plan on Aug. 1, Town Planner Alex Jaegerman said, “we want to create a coherent design framework so everything builds to a large vision” of the streetscape.

He said conditions on Main Street now are “worn and haphazard.”

In support of the need for a Main Street Master Plan, Terry DeWan of DeWan & Associates told councilors Aug. 1 that it’s “more than just a street. It’s really one of the major open spaces in town. It’s a major recreation resource and really one of the things that defines the community of Yarmouth.”

Last spring, Keith Smith from DeWan said the purpose of the master plan is to better unify the streetscape, including more uniform sidewalk widths to accommodate a number of pedestrian uses, along with new street lighting and more trees.

Another goal of the plan is to encourage local businesses to provide public seating where it’s practical and add public art where it can be best integrated, Smith said.

Although several councilors questioned the cost of implementing the Main Street plan, Councilor Andrew Kittredge said at the Aug. 1 workshop that money should not be the only factor. His main concern was whether the elements being proposed are achievable.

Earlier this month, Tupper also assured councilors that no new spending projects for Main Street improvements would move forward without council approval and said Tax Increment Financing would likely be available to cover much of the anticipated costs.

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