6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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Moving on

Last Wednesday’s Planning Board meeting in regard to accepting the proposal to convert the Pines Apartments into condominiums could be likened to putting a marshmallow on a turd and then asking the tenants to accept it as dessert. No matter how the attorney presented the owners’ reasoning for providing an opportunity for home ownership, though, it still stunk.

$109,000 for an apartment in "as is" condition, which the owners describe as affordable, I suppose, has to be appreciated in a relativistic sense, since houses in the surrounding area are selling for $180,000 and up. Of course there will be some updating to the outside property, according to the owners, who also said they’re planning on building a gazebo.

Imagine that, a gazebo! What a leisurely sit that will be as you watch the high school kids get out, or bask in the glow of the stadium lights during football season. I’m sure not many places can tout an amenity such as that. Of course, trash pick up, grounds keeping and snow plowing will still be provided. Provided? More like included as part of the expense that’s to be covered by the $170 a month condo fee.

Many of the residents didn’t see this as an opportunity for home ownership. Robert Coller, who spoke before the board, said he had been a home owner at one time, but ended up having to sell because of the continual increases in property taxes that forced him out of his home.

It is mind boggling to think of how many people are being impacted by this, of how many people are going to have to move out of their apartments, of how many people are not going to be able to remain in the area because there isn’t any other available housing that’s comparable or as affordable.

Civic leadership has never been one of Belfast's better qualities. Taking the Pines off the market for available apartments in the city can only have a negative impact on housing costs, especially since the MBNA apartment complex is also going condo. There just aren’t enough apartments in Belfast to absorb the loss.

“I understand where the residents are coming from,” said Board member Elizabeth Minor. “I’m getting priced out of Belfast, too. But we can only follow the laws of the city and state.”

Other members of the board sympathized with the tenants, who had hoped to change the outcome. But as Larry Gleeson said, “We’re constrained by what we can do here.”

City Planner Wayne Marshall said that their only role was to determine whether or not the proposal to convert the Pines Apartments into condominiums was a permitted use under city and state guidelines. Since they determined it was, they didn’t have any other choice except to approve the application. Only one board member abstained, who did so because he felt the issue of affordable housing continues not to be taken seriously.

When I walked home that night, I clearly understood the individual fates that the owners had predetermined for us, that human actions do have their effects on others, and that the consequences of their actions will be felt and argued for some time. After I got back to my place, I sat down on the couch and took in the quiet ambiance of my furnishings and decorations, and realized I’ll have to get busy real soon. It’s time to sort, tear down, throw out, donate, and pack up.

I’ve looked at few places already, and ended up walking away disheartened and discouraged. I love Belfast, the state, the beauty and easy pace of life, but I've never appreciated the hardship that seems to come with it. And since the rest of the state and New England seems to be both equally expensive and economically oppressive, I find myself considering other possibilities.

After looking at a small two-room apartment in town for $550 a month with no closets, I decided economic serfdom is not a good reason for staying here. It may be a necessary condition for living here, but it certainly isn’t a sufficient one. Thus, come the first of June, my cat and I are going to take a pass on what amounts to a life of peonage and move to Houston.

Scot Cunningham