Wiscasset downtown project

UPDATED: MDOT settles with CEI on Haggett Garage for $408K, gives Midcoast Conservancy until at least July to move

Posted:  Thursday, April 13, 2017 - 4:45pm
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The nonprofit that calls Haggett Garage in Wiscasset home wants to talk with Maine Department of Transportation in hopes of finding alternatives to making the Water Street building a parking lot. Midcoast Conservancy Executive Director Jody Jones said April 13, the organization understands the state’s position but still hopes there’s another way for MDOT to get its downtown project done. And if that can’t happen, the conservancy would at least like to stay until the end of the year, she said.

The conservancy leases office space at the 1916, former garage and sent MDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt a letter April 12 asking to work collaboratively. The letter came after the conservancy got an option to buy the property and MDOT filed a condemnation, or eminent domain, notice. The state’s plans for the property are part of a $5 million project to aid traffic flow and pedestrian safety downtown.

MDOT has already settled with Coastal Enterprises (CEI) and now owns the property, MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot wrote April 13 in email responses to questions from the Wiscasset Newspaper. Bernhardt has read Midcoast Conservancy’s letter and Talbot expected Bernhardt would reply to it.

The property has long been integral to the project’s scope that includes replacement parking on both sides of Route One, Talbot wrote. MDOT moved ahead with the acquisition to prevent the owner and tenant from being in a state of limbo, he continued. “The fact that the tenant exercised an option to purchase the property made it all the more appropriate for the acquisition to take place now rather than later.”

Talbot stated the price and other settlement details are confidential by law, but CEI was free to share them if it wanted. CEI spokeswoman Elizabeth Rogers confirmed Thursday afternoon, CEI accepted $408,000, which was about what it owed on the property; that was deemed the fair market value and was about what Midcoast Conservancy would have paid, Rogers said. CEI’s other two downtown properties, the Tucker and Port Wiscasset buildings, remain on the market. The nonprofit moved its headquarters to Brunswick in 2015.

Asked when the conservancy must be out, Talbot responded: “We have offered to allow them to stay until the end of July with a possibility of longer while we assist them with their relocation.”

Jones said the conservancy appreciates the state’s help, but summer is the busiest time of year for the land conservation organization, so it would like to remain in the building at least through the end of 2017.

One day earlier, in the letter to Bernhardt and an interview, Jones expressed hope for a solution that would serve MDOT, Wiscasset and the nonprofit in its community work. Jones announced April 10, the organization in late March exercised an option on the property with an April 30 deadline.  Jones said April 12, the state’s eminent domain filing raised legal questions including whether or not the notice, to be valid, needed to cite the nonprofit’s option.

Her letter to Bernhardt states Midcoast’s Conservancy’s attorneys have advised, because the option was already recorded in the registry of deeds, the state’s notice needs to address it. “Although we understand that we have legal rights that arise from this omission in the eminent domain taking process, we believe that by working together, we will be able to identify options that would have even greater value for all involved,” Jones writes.

Jones said the conservancy has looked at other sites on Main and Water streets, but none have the amenities of its current space. Asked if the organization would remain in Wiscasset if not at Haggett Garage, she said it’s a question she can’t answer.

She said Thursday, despite the latest developments, some uncertainty remained about the property’s future due to the anticipated new town vote in June and the court case the Ralph H. Doering family brought in connection with the downtown project. Jones believes there are still opportunities to investigate alternatives on parking that would allow the state to make its traffic improvements. “We’d still like a chance to talk.”

Her letter notes the organization’s 10 full-time and six seasonal workers use downtown businesses and the conservancy is becoming part of the community in a number of ways, including children’s activities, joining the Wiscasset Art Walk and working with the town to protect White’s Island. “We would like to continue and even expand our work within the Wiscasset community given the opportunity,” Jones writes.