For seven years, Belfast Yards has sat vacant on the city’s waterfront. Now, Belfast officials want to do something with the empty lot, but members of the community are resistant.
On Tuesday, a meeting of more than 50 harbor area business owners and members of the Planning Board, climate committee and harbor committee met with the Belfast City Council at a listening session. The property at 45 Front St., located across from the Belfast Shipyard, was formerly home to the city dump, a railroad station and, most recently, the Belfast Maskers’ theater, which was torn down in 2015.
Most of the speakers at the listening session opposed selling the lot for development. In 2015, when the area first was cleared, the city planned to reserve the lot for small commercial development. That development never happened, and some city councilors think Belfast should sell the land.
Others, like local lobsterman David Black disagree. He said the lot is important to many nearby businesses, employees and locals who use it for parking, as a thruway for transporting boats and more.
Joanne Moesswilde read a letter on behalf of the the Harbor Advisory Committee that urged the council focus on the lot’s marine potential, create temporary developments and maintain public access to the working waterfront.
“We can understand the desire to use this area to increase the tax base and thus to make money for the city … But there is a greater albeit less obvious, and immediate way to realize the fullest potential of this waterfront area, keep it open and do not build structures that will limit its further use,” Moesswilde read.
Other attendees had concerns about the viability of the area as sea levels continue to rise.
“It’s not worth your time to establish your business at that location if it’s not going to be viable for 20 years,” said Gerald Brand, a member of the climate crisis and harbor committees.
The council has had on and off discussions about what to do with the Belfast Yards since it was vacated. Councilors have considered selling portions of the lot to small business owners or housing developers.
“This is an important piece of waterfront land, the last of the city-owned waterfront land that isn’t park land or rental properties to marine businesses,” City Councilor Mary Mortier said.
Councilor Mike Hurley believes the lot can be a way to make the waterfront accessible to small businesses that have struggled to find property in between the larger businesses. Both Hurley and Councilor Paul Dean said Wednesday they also believe the city does not have the resources to maintain ownership and lease the land.
“There are things you do that you have to do, because they’re the right thing to do based on many, many years of experience,” Hurley said.
But Mortier wants to hear what all residents in Belfast have to say before she makes any decisions.
“I’m looking at the whole picture,” she said. “It’s the last opportunity, so it’s very important we get this right.”