Eric Sanders won 65% to 35% … that is a resounding endorsement for Eric and the Belfast City Council. Thank you voters.
Thank you for reading my one real letter about the election. I do take your patience with email seriously.
Tuesday is election day. Long ago I learned not to sit on the sidelines while other councilors are running. If it goes bad I get to live with the person for at least one year and often a minimum of two. Who we elect matters. This year Eric Sanders is running for re-election. Eric and I came on the council at the same time 6 years ago. He works at Bank of America, plays in area bands “Captain Obvious”, teaches drums, his wife Courtney has Daily Soup and on his lunch hour Eric delivers, he has three school aged children, volunteers as a auctioneer, is truly a dedicated bicycle rider, and served on the RSU 20 School Board before joining the council.
In the last six years it is hard to count all the things that have went well for Belfast. In spite of huge cuts in municipal revenue sharing (the state refunded less to towns) and education by the Le Page administration the city mostly managed to keep an almost flat budget. The schools went up (keep in mind that the schools are 63% of your tax bill) but the city budget didn’t. Between grants and private fundraising we managed to do a lot without spending tax dollars. Six years ago Front Street Shipyard wasn’t even a dream. There were almost 40 empty stores and buildings in downtown and along route One. Today they’re mainly filled and there is a huge sense of vibrancy and optimism. Belfast is on the move. The Harbor Walk and the Passy Rail Trail were hoped for. Today they are reality. RSU 20 was adrift in bickering and dysfunction: Eric helped lead and tirelessly championed the complicated withdrawal process. 77% supported withdrawal and everyone is now happier. Eric brings a pragmatic and impatient energy. He knows how things work and he wants to see them work well. He holds people accountable whether they have senior positions or come making proposals to the city. He’s been a budget hawk especially on not foolishly or recklessly lowering the surplus. The surplus is there as an emergency rainy day fund and saves us from having to borrow to pay our bills.
Turning Belfast around in six years wasn’t easy. It took hard work. The city hired an economic development director who’s done wonders for all of us. We supported Our Town Belfast and changed the entire way the downtown functions. But we’re not done yet. Most of the work of city government doesn’t’ set off fireworks: should we get a new front end loader? Are people going too fast on the Crocker Road? Can we get more access to the waterfront? Are people putting brush out with their fall leaves? (don’t do it ) but some is important, exciting, and meaningful. Making sure that people are safe from potential industrial accidents. What happens next at the Maskers / Belfast Rail Yards property? How will Front Street be rebuilt with parking and pedestrian access? Finishing the Rail Trail (by May 30th). Eric is a good listener, always accessible at school, work, the dog park, on his bike, at his house. If anything he’s too accessible. But….No good deeds go unpunished.
Eric is in a tough race against a seasoned and professional political operative. His young opponent who moved to town just a few months ago has run for a seat in the legislature as a Republican, was the grassroots director of Stand For Marriage Maine referendum that successfully vetoed our same sex marriage law, and was campaign manager for the Maine Senate Republicans. He has not at all been forthcoming about his background or his intentions but his record is clear. He has organized support from the Republican Party. Friends… in my memory we have never seen this kind of party involvement in an election in Belfast. We are nonpartisan but apparently not to everyone and not this year. Sending a message that Belfast City Council is not for partisan politics is enough reason not to support Ryan. There are however many other reasons not to support Harnden: his lack of knowledge about Belfast, his unwillingness to discuss his past, his complete lack of being involved in anything in Belfast previously, and his inexperience in the work place other than as a party representative. Worst of all: in letters he’s sent to a select few he describes Belfast like a dying dark place. I know he just got here but has he looked around? Is Belfast better off today than it was six years ago? It is better, and it got better on Eric’s watch, and it’s going to get even better. We still have work to do.
I hope you will join me and others such as Jay Davis, Cathy Heberer, Roger Lee, Caitlin Hills, Neal Harkness, Stephanie Wade, Jeanne Mcintyre, Mary Mortier, Hal Richardson and many others who have written letters of support for Eric. Eric is a good city councilor, with a record to be proud of, and a good man. I hope you will vote for Eric Sanders and tell your friends. Tuesday is election day.
Thank you/ Mike
Michael D. Hurley
93 Main Street
Belfast ME 04915
A Wal-Mart history. Back in 2000 Wal-Mart announced they were thinking about Belfast. http://bangordailynews.com/search/?ref=tophat I had just been elected Mayor and within days the “big box” war was on. In 2001 a Belfast referendum said NO ( 70% voted NO to big boxes 1296 NO and 770 YES) to stores larger than 75,000 sq ft.
Then a few years later there was another referendum, this time approving big boxes on the east side. Except, small problem, no big boxes wanted to be there. Later the City Council overruled the referendum and changed the zoning to ban big boxes on the east side and at the same time passed new zoning to allow a big box on the former Les Hills property across from the entrance to Bank of America. It is still zoned to permit large scale development. All you need is a company that wants to do it.
Here we are more than 15 years later. I’ve been on the inside of the most of the planning process. I have opinions just like everyone but I also have knowledge. I was in the room and know what was said and what was done.
For myself I was opposed to Wal-Mart in the beginning but after about a year or two I came to the conclusion it was not “yes or no” but “where and how.” For changing my mind and leading the discussion that ultimately helped get us to rezoning and allowing a big box I was the devil incarnate to people opposed to Wal-Mart. The people who are in favor still think I’m against it. Which is all fine by me: I got over wanting to be loved and understood a long time ago. My change of mind (I was against it before I for it) came because one by one I found the arguments against a big box not to hold water and ultimately I decided: how is it good for Belfast if people drive out of town to go shopping elsewhere? It’s not.
Somewhere around 2009 the zoning was changed and we opened the door for a big box. But no one showed up. Loews or Home Depot was specifically banned anyway but their foray into Maine had ended badly when the housing bubble went poof. People love to say things like Costco! Or Trader Joe’s! But bottom line is there are few companies willing to come to a little Podunk town on the Maine coast with 6500 people who can barely support a McDonald’s but not a KFC. Wal-Mart was the only game in town who might be interested and they are not interested. Don’t take my word for it: Google it. Wal-Mart is no longer building in really small towns like Belfast. If we were any smaller we’d be Brooks.
That ship, of big retailers building everywhere, has sailed. There are two reasons. Number one: the internet. People are buying more and more stuff on line, yes….. even that fabled mythical creature: the lost and lonely underwear of Belfast, Maine are now being bought by the daily truckload on line. Ask Troy at UPS. Two: the resurgence of small business on line and downtowns everywhere are eating the big boxes lunch. Don’t trust me: Google it. https://www.google.com/search?q=major+retailers+in+trouble&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8. The net result is there is nothing stopping a major retailer from coming to Belfast except that they’re simply not interested. They have much bigger problems than whether to build in a sub minor market like Belfast. https://www.google.com/search?q=major+retailers+in+trouble&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=walmart+in+trouble We are a speck almost beyond consideration.
Will we get a new food store? Who knows? They are welcome if they ever show up but the one thing all these companies are good at is running the numbers and the numbers say NO. We are just too small.
It is amazing to me that we are still talking about this fifteen years later. The retail world changed on our watch. The good news is the internet is right here and you can shop all night long, we have a strong downtown for those who want it, we have a decent number of stores like Reny’s, Job Lot, dollar stores, and enough hardware and lumber stores to build whatever you like. The Les Hills property is still zoned for major development so if anyone’s interested send them along.
The one thing you can never get in a Belfast store is a change of scenery and a trip out of town.
Here’s my letter to the editor in support of Eric…
To the editor:
Time for a change in Belfast? Hopeful candidates throw that slogan when they don’t have any ideas. Let me tell you about change. Six years ago I was elected to the Belfast City Council with an almost unknown young man, Eric Sanders. I ran because Belfast was adrift economically. We had dozens of empty businesses on Route One and downtown. I wanted to get Belfast moving. In Eric I found a kindred electric spirit. Eric; a father of three school aged children, rides a bicycle with hamster intensity, holds down a serious full time job while teaching drums, helping his wife’s business when he’s not coaching sports, playing in his band, or auctioneering. Eric has energy. Six years ago we had no Rail Trail or Harbor Walk, no economic development director, no Our Town Belfast, there was a crumbling failed condo project where today we have the amazing Front Street Shipyard. On our watch the schools were in free fall with endless fighting and rising taxes. Eric led the demanding withdrawal and RSU 71 is better off today thanks in large part to Eric Sanders. After education and municipal support cuts from Governor Le Page we managed to not cut services or have large tax increases. Eric brought positive change to Belfast and he should be supported by every Belfast voter for another term. We still have enormous work to do. We need Eric’s experience, fiscal smarts, and his energy. Re-elect Eric Sanders and he’ll keep bringing good change. I have been lucky to serve with Eric and Belfast has been fortunate to have his expertise, tireless focus and service. Please join me in voting to re-elect Eric Sanders on election day.
Belfast City Council member
Maybe you noticed: I’m not running for Mayor. Walter decided to run for another term. I have differences with his Mayoring but not to the extent that running against him would be good for Belfast, Walter, or me. We’d have a hell of a fight and somehow it seemed to me everyone would be a loser. So… I’m running unopposed for the City Council for a 4th term. Eight more years! And 72.00 a month!
My current term on the Belfast City Council is up this November. By late August I have to decide if I will either run for council again or possibly run for Mayor. I am thinking about it a lot as it’s not an easy decision. Walter Ash has told many people he will not be running this year but has not said so in public. If he does not run I am very likely to run. And I may run even if he does run. I am most concerned with the lack of public discussions with our future, moving the Belfast Maskers property onto the tax rolls in a way which we want, address the energy consumption of Belfast buildings (nearly 10% of our budget at 350,000.00 each year for electric and oil), and other things we need to think and talk about. We have been on cruise control for too long. I’d try to help facilitate that conversation is I was Mayor. But if I was Mayor I will lose my vote. So… I’m not sure. What do you think I should do?
Did you know that almost all property in Belfast can now build what many used to call a “mother in law apartment” on almost every property in Belfast? While some people think this is only for converting an existing garage: it is not so. As long as you can meet the setback requirements (and maybe not even as long as you have an existing building like a garage) you are able to build a “one bedroom” additional separate building and use it for rental, home office, guests, etc. The City changed the zoning to make this possible. We want people to build new apartments. Go to City Hall Planning office or call 338-3063 ext 25 for more information. Or call Mike Hurley at 338-1975.
Dear RSU 71;
You were five individual town schools before SAD 34, then you became SAD 34, then you joined RSU 20, and now there will be five towns of Belmont, Swanville, Morrill, Searsmont and Belfast coming together as RSU 71. The last years have been really tough on everyone. You only get 3 chances to start over again, and this is your latest, and before you start over again many people will have some suggestions for the “new” RSU. I chose to involve myself in the RSU 20 crisis only because the schools had become a distraction for my town and our area rather than an attraction. Whatever might have been is now past us. But the lessons learned over the last few years of debating schools and how to run them, program them, set standards, direction, and policies should not go to waste. Here are a few suggestions for the new RSU.
Come out swinging for the fences. Go big.
It is time for real change. I know little about education but I know that when I hear from parents and potential residents that many, too many, were choosing to not move into our district, opting for home schooling, or sending their kids out of town to other schools and the result was that we have a very serious problem that will not be solved simply by the reforming into RSU 71. Please set the bar high. Restart the RSU with the best foot forward. Our area is too good not to have excellent schools. Reset the clock and double down for quality education. Generate and support enthusiasm for education equal to how our sports teams are supported.
Rename the high school.
There are deep feelings from former and present member towns in the Regional School Unit who feel dominated, disrespected, and disregarded by the largest member town Belfast. I don’t believe it to be true but it is still how some people feel. Truly insensitive and incendiary comments from some during the withdrawal process helped fan the flames of these divisions and made people from other towns feel unwelcome. Changing the name of the high school to an inclusive name would help soothe those feelings and have a long term positive effect. Making all 5 member towns of RSU 71 feel like it is “their” high school that happens to be in Belfast would be a good first step towards creating an RSU where everyone belongs and is equally valued and welcomed.
Figure out how to bring back the cut programs of art, language, music.
The arts, language, etc. are every bit as important as other curriculum or athletics and the cuts and losses of those programs were a real blow to our schools, families, and students. People chose to not move here, took their kids away, solely due to these cuts. Bring it back.
Get your buildings off of oil.
Between solar, heat pumps, pellets, or other wood solutions it’s time to get off oil.
Run your board meetings so that the board and administrators sit close together
. Don’t sit thirty feet from each other. Talk respectfully to each other. Tackle problems head on and find solutions. Don’t let long standing problems fester and become the norm.
Have an “open to the public” period at board meetings that is welcoming of public input.
Set a time limit. Have it in the beginning and have it at the end. People want to be heard. Listen to them.
Lastly: get rid of the mangy old stuffed lions in the high school lobby.
They clog up what is a very small public lobby space at the school. I realize someone wanted these, maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time, maybe a few still love these things but they really have no place in the school. Sell them, give them away, put ‘em on eBay, Perry’s Nut House would love them…..but take back the all too small lobby space for students and school activities.
As a long time Belfast elected official I am looking forward to not having to think about school systems. My hopes are high for RSU 71 as are so many people from our five towns. Don’t even think of going back. Make it aspirational, go big, make it important, be something people can point to with pride and hit the ground running fast.
With best wishes for a new year and a great new RSU 71, Mike Hurley / Belfast City Council
Here is the Belfast commercial waterfront between Front Street and the harbor. It starts at the big Route One bridge and ends at the Belfast Boathouse.
1. Penobscot McCrum
2. Front Street Shipyard
3. City of Belfast (Maskers)
4. Assorted small owners including Purple Baboon, 3 Tides, the tug boats, the Weathervane, and a few others.
5. Heritage Park
6. Consumers Fuel property
7. French and Webb property
8. Steamboat Landing park and boathouse
And that is it. We have been a city and waterfront dominated by large companies: shoes, windows, sardines, railway, chickens, and potatoes. Through good fortune we have reclaimed much of that property: Heritage Park (city purchase) and Steamboat Landing (a gift from Charles Cawley and MBNA) and the BMLRR rail yard. The spaces that Penobscot McCrum and the former Stinson now “Front Street Shipyard” occupy are the majority of the commercial Belfast waterfront.
On the waterfront today are three models for its future development.
1. One (1) is the minimal clutch of small, successful and character-rich businesses near the City Landing – 3 Tides, the Front Street Pub, the Weathervane, Purple Baboon and a few offices and apartments, the former Belfast Boatyard, the towboats, etc. This is much like the rest of the greater Belfast downtown we recognize.
2. The second (2) is ever larger commercial industrial spaces as represented by Penobscot-McCrum, Front Street Shipyard, French and Webb and Consumers Fuel. There is nothing like this development potential currently in the rest of the downtown.
3. City parks and public spaces
The city council favors the first approach (1) because it’s in keeping with the rest of Belfast that people admire most and offers a countervailing safeguard against the large, closed, cookie-cutter developments that have been proposed earlier and have ruined waterfronts in so many communities.
We should remember the Westport Capital Partners condo plan (prior to Front Street Shipyard) that would have made Stinson’s an enclave of $850,000 seasonal homes. Some of us can even recall the city council’s welcoming proposals for development proposals in what is now waterfront Heritage Park to condo developers in 1985. The developers had big plans, including bell towers and marinas, and Belfast voters said: “enough”, and elected a radically new council the next year in protest. The new council quickly preserved the land as Heritage Park.
The Masker’s waterfront has mostly lain nearly fallow for years. The council has until recently declined to plan for the City waterfront land’s future on the sensible grounds that we could not predict the future and the belief it’s better to be reactive and fill in the last spaces.
But the future is now upon us and pressuring us, Front Street Shipyard is looking to expand again, and it is time for the city to put our own house in order and to envision a future that we will want to live in and leave for generations.
Let’s look at what’s here now, starting at the north.
1. The McCrum property is a neighbor to our successful Footbridge and the Passy Rail Trail and will be used for new purposes at some point.
2. The railroad land, which the council paid $360,000 for in the 1980s because it didn’t want the waterfront to be part of a bankruptcy filing by the B & ML, has seen the major improvements by Front Street Shipyard and the minor and reconfigurable development of a $250,000 parking lot and the Thompson Wharf pier. Most of the city’s land is open and unused. We sold a portion of our land near the parking lot to enable Front Street Shipyard to do their yard. The parking lot is also now planned to be sold to Front Street Shipyard.
3. 3 Tides, the Weathervane, the Front Street Pub, The Purple Baboon, etc., are among the biggest present-day draws to the waterfront, none of these owners or anyone like them will be part of the new Belfast waterfront development because the cost will be prohibitive. If you like small business and property owners like 3 Tide’s Dave and Sarah or Front Street Pubs Tina and Katherine we need to find a way to make more space for people like them.
4. The City Landing and Heritage Park are public space and unavailable for development.
5. Consumers Fuel is waiting to be developed, as is the French and Webb building.
6. The Common, the Boathouse and Steamboat Landing parks are owned by the city and protect the south end of the waterfront.
And that’s it.
That’s all we have for the entire develop-able commercial waterfront for the entire City of Belfast.
• Belfast’s waterfront, unlike most small city harbors is dominated by large users. It was taken over in years past and it is still the same. Had MBNA and Charles Cawley not gifted Steamboat Landing and Belfast Commons it would be another vast single ownership.
We have one last chance to develop some more small scale property ownership on the Belfast waterfront. If we see the City of Belfast non-park waterfront land (the Maskers) developed on a scale that fits Belfast we will change our city enormously . To accomplish that, we need a detailed master plan that recognizes and includes these essential elements for the Belfast Maskers/ City of Belfast property:
* Multiple small parcels privately owned: We can discuss what small means but envision 20 x 30 foot lots on 50% of the property with the rest used for parking, lanes, public space, walkways, service access, etc. (if we put 40 of these lots in it would require ½ acre of the 4 acres we own)
* Multiple small uses required, including all sorts of small business, boat building, marine services, inns, retail, residences, offices, entertainment, etc. as possibilities
* A time frame that will include the start of construction of 50 percent of projects by 20xx built into sales agreements.
• What is not envisioned is one corporate entity owning and developing the Maskers property as if it were a mall or a condominium developer.
Including the Masker’s building, the rail buildings, and the parking lot we have four acres , a very small number of acres of City land. If we sold only 40 lots at 50,000.00 (a seemingly fair and low price) the sale would bring in 2 million dollars in sales and once built out could add 10-20 million in valuation. More importantly it would also add the social and business diversity equal to all of Main Street from Rollie’s to the Post Office.
Think of Alexias, the Green Store, Bay Wrap, Colburn Shoe, the Game Loft, Maine Farmland Trust, Darby’s, Del Vino’s, Rollie’s: they are all about 20’ wide x 40’ deep. Think of all the complexity, vitality, life and energy those few 3 story buildings bring to our city.
The idea is revolutionary: to re-colonize the waterfront with independence, safeguarding public access while pursuing private development of small properties by small property owners and business owners; to keep the access to open space that makes our waterfront so distinctive while maximizing business opportunities on private land; and to create a dynamic and exciting template for the future.
The Belfast waterfront has always been occupied, exploited, dominated, and controlled by large industries for their own interests. I hope you’ll join and support the council in considering how we can truly change the city for the better.
Stay tuned. / Thanks/ Mike Hurley
The City of Belfast’s intrepid Ned Lightner filmed the RSU 20 Withdrawal committee members Joan Crabiel and Eric Sanders invited me to join them in making the case for voting yes on withdrawal and reforming for Belmont, Swanville, Morrill, Searsmont, and Belfast. Please take a minute to watch.