AUGUSTA — Officials proposing a new Maine Army National Guard headquarters building will have to stand down for now, because the state does not yet own the property that officials plan to use to gain access to the site.
The Maine Army National Guard proposed to build a new 100,000-square-foot headquarters between Civic Center Drive and Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery. The proposed office building is subject to Planning Board approval. Board members reviewed the proposal Tuesday, but Development Director Matt Nazar advised against voting because the Guard does not hold title or rights to a parcel of land needed to build a planned access road that would lead both to the new building and the existing veterans’ cemetery.
Nazar said the state Department of Transportation is negotiating with a private landowner for the land, but those negotiations have not resulted in a deal.
“The board should not make a decision until that discussion is finalized” said Nazar, noting DOT officials anticipate they will be successful soon in acquiring the land, which is just south of the existing cemetery access road. “I don’t think it will be too much of a stumbling block, but I wouldn’t do any voting on this application tonight.”
John Kenney, a civil engineer with WBRC Architects and Engineers, a firm hired by the Guard to work on the project, said the Guard still hopes to get approval from the board.
“We had anticipated looking for approval tonight, but we understand that may not be possible,” Kenney said.
The proposed new entrance to the headquarters would be across Civic Center Drive from Darin Drive. Darin Drive is the access road to the Augusta Business Park.
The entrance to the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery would be moved so the cemetery and headquarters building would share a single entrance at a traffic signal that would be installed at Darin Drive, according to Lt. Col. Normand Michaud.
Patricia Paul, of Winslow, in an email A. Delaine Nye, a board member, read a portion of aloud Tuesday, said her father was in the Guard for 10 years and served in the South Pacific during World War II. She said her father helped develop the cemetery and was proud of it, and both her mother and father are buried there. She said the cemetery, and especially its entrance road, which she said is beautiful and meaningful, should remain as they are.
“The men and women who lay buried in those hallowed grounds of the (Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery) sacrificed more than we will ever know, and they paid for that land with their blood, sweat, and tears,” Paul said in her email. “Please let them rest in peace and with dignity.”
Kenney said officials agree the tree-lined access road to the cemetery is special, and they plan to try to re-create that feeling with the new entrance location.
“We understand the importance of this entrance to the cemetery,” Kenney said. “We’re trying to use trees, to create the same feel, as you drive into the cemetery.”
The building would serve as the Guard’s new joint forces headquarters, replacing multiple buildings at Camp Keyes on Winthrop Street and Airport Road, next to Augusta State Airport. It would include offices for about 190 full-time guard employees, most of whom are at Camp Keyes now.
Camp Keyes would continue to be the site for vehicle maintenance and the other nonadministrative, more industrial uses after the headquarters offices move to the proposed new site.
The new Army and Air Guard headquarters, according to Diane Morabito, a traffic engineer with Maine Traffic Resources, would put an additional 208 vehicles on Civic Center Drive during the peak morning weekday commuting hour when it is fully built out, and 200 during the evening peak weekday commute.
Nazar said the state DOT will not allow the project to be built without a traffic signal being installed on Civic Center Drive at the proposed new intersection.
Construction could start in 2015 and be complete in 2017.
The federally funded project is expected to cost about $30 million and to be built on about 43 wooded and undeveloped acres of the 165-acre cemetery property.
Officials said the building and the cemetery will be separate from each other, with woods and a brook dividing the two parcels.
The site is in the city’s Planned Development District, where government services are a conditional use, subject to a major development review by the Planning Board.
Neighbor Shirley Ezzy, who previously had expressed concern about noise from a helicopter landing site planned as part of the project, said she had been assured by Guard officials they would land a helicopter there only in an emergency.
Board members voted to table the proposal until their Jan. 14 meeting, in anticipation of the project having the needed land to provide access to it from Civic Center Drive in state hands by then.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647