The 144-acres to be redeveloped. Screenshot/Sebago Technics

BRUNSWICK — A Brunswick town councilor wants to rezone a roughly 140-acre parcel on Brunswick Landing in an effort to save the land for trails and conservation and prevent development by Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority — something he said could do “permanent ecological damage.”

The 144 acres in question were part of a roughly 275-acre area given to Bowdoin College for educational purposes in 2006 and includes a cranberry wetland, a radar tower, abandoned military bunkers, airport access roads, a quarry and land formerly part of the town commons.

But earlier this year, Bowdoin gave just over half that land back to the Navy, unable to make the “substantial investments in new facilities” in the timeline required by the original terms of the agreement, a college spokesperson said at the time. 

The Navy conveyed the 144 remaining acres back to the redevelopment authority, which is overseeing revitalization efforts at the former base, now renamed Brunswick Landing. 

The land, situated between Harpswell Road and the Brunswick Executive Airport on the western side of the property, are now available again. 

This summer, redevelopment authority officials launched a “rigorous public engagement process” to determine how best to use the land. 

Results from an August survey that garnered more than 500 responses point to a desire for both much-needed affordable and workforce housing and conservation and recreation land.

According to Steven Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, about 30-40% of the property is developable and staff and consultants are now working on three land use scenarios to present to the public. The ultimate plan for the land will likely “support a mix of housing types in a planned unit ‘smart growth’ development scheme which is both sensitive to and compliments the natural terrain, accommodates community open spaces and bike/pedestrian pathways and preserves significant lands for conservation properties,” he wrote in a letter to the town council. 

Councilor Dan Ankeles, though, takes issue with the way the survey asked what type of development should be allowed on the site, not whether it should be at all. The questions were slanted toward developing housing on the site, he argued, and while it’s certainly a need in the community, the parcel should be conserved. 

Furthermore, one question concerning “development and uses” showed that while 46 percent of respondents felt the land should be developed with environmentally sensitive areas preserved, 40 percent agreed with Ankeles that it should not be developed and all areas should be preserved as open space. Fourteen percent selected “neither of the above.”

“To be perfectly blunt, I’m afraid there is an attempt to railroad the Council into allowing the parcel — which was once part of our beautiful Town Commons —  to be developed in a wildly inappropriate way. … This is land that should be conserved and integrated into our town’s bike and pedestrian trail system, and nothing more,” he said in a council newsletter. “I think that the point of the survey was to provide public cover to develop affordable housing on conservation land so that there wouldn’t be pressure to do so on land viewed as more profitable —  basically playing this community’s progressive bent against itself and exploiting the town’s dire need for workforce housing.”

“There’s plenty of land in town,” Ankeles added in an interview. “It just so happens they’ve selected land that was part of the town commons. I’m not going to take that bait.”

Ankeles is requesting the council rezone the parcel to a “growth natural resources” designation, which means the use will be limited to trails and conservation.

A consultant can indicate a percentage of a parcel as buildable, but does that mean it should be built on?” he said. “I’m saying no.”

Levesque disagrees that the survey was misleading, and contends that the questions allowed people to weigh in on multiple scenarios. Plus, he said, the public process was not required, but was a good faith effort to hear ideas and opinions. 

Levesque was not surprised by the survey results and said it was clear people were looking for a blend of conservation and residential uses.

“We would love for this project to demonstrate how you can blend a quality neighborhood project harmoniously with the surrounding environment,” he said in his letter to the council. 

However, if town officials want to purchase the land from the redevelopment authority and conserve it, “we’d be willing to have that discussion,” he said in an interview.  “If the town wants to rezone, there’s a process to go through and they may have to compensate landowners for taking away development rights that were previously there,” he added, but “that’s the town’s prerogative.”  

Comments are not available on this story.