Brunswick officials delayed approval of a downtown streetscape project and will instead discuss the proposal at a workshop.

On Monday, members of the town council said they wanted more public input, and were worried about increasing costs and the impact to trees in the downtown.

A Downtown Streetscape Committee formed in September 2019 to oversee plans to improve or replace the concrete sidewalks, lighting, trees and landscaping in the heart of downtown from the mall to the Route 1 overpass.

Town officials in October 2020 debated whether downtown sidewalks should be all brick, or a brick-concrete hybrid consisting of a concrete walkway bordered by brick corridors.

“As a result of the pandemic, and the current housing market, both the costs of materials and labor have significantly increased because of the delay,” Town Engineer Ryan Barnes wrote in a memo.

Barnes broke down the cost increases associated with both the all-brick and hybrid options. For the all-brick option, the original cost estimate has grown from $4.07 million to $5.87 million. To include the mall area, costs increased from $4.83 million to $6.95 million.

Similarly, cost estimates for the hybrid option have gone from $2.8 million to $4.08 million, and from $3.36 million to $4.83 million to include the mall area.

In another memo to the council, Town Manager John Eldridge wrote that the town no longer believes that tax increment financing revenues will be enough to cover the project and because of that, the town is reviewing alternate funding avenues.

“The options include general fund property taxes, a development assessment, or some combination of those,” Eldridge wrote. “We will continue to pursue grant funding as well.”

According to Eldridge, there are about 60 trees within the scope of the project.

According to a presentation at the council meeting, about 20 are experiencing “serious health issues,” such as trunk decay, disease and insect infestation. Town Arborist Dennis Wilson estimated that of the 20, about half will die in the next five to 10 years.

Only three healthy trees are estimated to be impacted by construction.

It is unclear exactly how many of the trees with health issues would be lost from construction, according to Eldridge, as well as the number difference of trees that would be impacted with the hybrid option verse the all-brick.

According to Wilson, the hybrid option would likely disturb tree roots less, and give the trees a better chance of survival.

Wilson also presented a potential plan for 43 new trees to be added in the downtown, which, when factoring in the potential loss of the 20 with health issues and three from construction, would bring the potential post-construction total to 84 trees.

Resident Peter Baecher, a former town arborist, who has voiced concerns for the trees in the project area, said that he does not agree that 20 of the trees have serious health issues.

“This is where I think the town would benefit from involving other experienced arborists to broaden their perspective,” Baecher said. “It should be realized that trees are not perfect and like most living things generally have some defects.”

After watching the meeting, Baecher said the town’s plan to construct larger tree pits will benefit the longevity of sidewalks and the health of the trees.

“On the negative side, I am not reassured that the value of the existing trees is fully appreciated,” Baecher said. “Growing a sidewalk tree to a size where it can provide shade takes many, many years.  You really don’t want to start over if you don’t have to.”

Council Chairperson John Perrault said the workshop will likely take place at some point in July.

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