Dollars Matter When Tourism and Industry Clash
Thursday, December 06, 2012 7:49 AM
"Let me make this clear," said Buddy Hall, owner of Anglers Restaurant in Searsport, a favorite seafood joint known for its five-star fried clams. "This is not political for me. This is personal."
“The tank will be a billboard for Searsport,” says Buddy Hall, owner of the popular Anglers Restaurant, above. The proposed 22.7-million-gallon propane tank will be right behind Anglers. “Welcome to the tank farm.” Photos by C. Parrish
Anglers is located north of town on Route 1 and Hall is an affable guy who will talk to anyone, anytime. Republicans for lunch? Come on in. Democrats? Developers? Sit right here. Green? We've got a special you might like. Hunters? How about a burger?
"I'm in the hospitality business," said Hall. "That's what I do. I?make people welcome."
But the 22.7-million-gallon propane tank facility that DCP Midstream/Searsport plans to build behind the restaurant is not welcome.
It will be 400 feet away, with a clear line of sight from the back door, to be specific. At 14 stories high, it is going to dominate the view.
Anglers, which Hall opened in 2000, is an anchor in the community, with 130 seats and 36 year-round restaurant employees and more seasonal employees during the summer. Bait's Motel, next door, is also owned by Hall. His business, with almost a half-million-dollar payroll, is one of the top-10 employers in Searsport.
But restaurants run on very tight margins. Everyone knows that, and Anglers, in spite of serving 96,000 people last year, is no exception.
Hall, who supports more port development generally, including development of the tip of Sears Island across from the docks, said the big DCP tank project does more than bring industry and a handful of jobs to the area; it will slop over onto a healthy tourism business base.
Impacts on Tourism
An economic impact study by Charles Colgan, commissioned by DCP, the developer, didn't take Anglers into account. Colgan seemed to have analyzed data about Searsport without ever visiting it or understanding its characteristics.
The Fannon Report, an economic assessment of the impacts of the proposed DCP?development that was commissioned by the Searsport Planning Board and conducted by Nancy Fannon, a business appraiser and expert in evaluating damages and loss, also did not mention Anglers or Bait's Motel.
As directed by the planning board, Fannon reviewed existing relevant reports and information and collected some new data.
Fannon found that other types of industrial development, such as coastal wind farms, had been found to shorten the stay of tourists. But, Fannon noted, the DCP facility would be located in an existing industrial zone, which already has fuel tanks visible from many locations. That, said Fannon, would likely lessen the impact.
Hall said:?No way.
"Right now, people heading north towards Bar Harbor come around the curve in the highway and see Anglers' full parking lot," said Hall.
If they don't know about the fried clams, the obvious popularity of the place draws them in.
"That's a big part of my business," said Hall. "They see the number of cars in the parking lot and it's a big draw. It's a visual thing."
For Hall, his opposition to the DCP Midstream development is all about how the tank will look, the message it will send and the impact that will have on his business. Hall has been in the restaurant business for 40 years in Belfast and Searsport. He knows his clientele and that's what worries him.
"Now, their line of sight will go right to the tank," he said. "All's I?need is a few less people in the parking lot and then they're past Anglers at 45 to 50 miles-per-hour and they're gone."
"And going southbound? Going southbound on Route 1, that tank will be above tree line," he said. "People are going to ask themselves:?Is this where we want to stop and eat? And then they'll pass right on by."
"It will be a billboard for Searsport," said Hall. "Welcome to the tank farm."
Hall is not the only one worried about a loss of business. The owners of several B&Bs and hotels, antique and other retail shops in Searsport believe the in-your-face location of a big industrial tank will label Searsport as a town worth skipping.
"You don't go to Maine to see New Jersey," said a Searsport retailer at the recent public hearing on the proposed development.Impacts on Municipal Services
Fannon asked town department heads to estimate their costs and impacts and asked DCP?to supply information on the operation of the proposed facility.
Fannon concluded that there will be little impact on town roads due to propane trucks (50 trucks a day in the winter and 10 to 15 in the summer) and the town will benefit from DCP paying to extend the water line. The town estimates no additional cost to the harbor master, fire department or to emergency response, with the exception of hiring two additional police officers for the police department at the cost of $85,000 a year, for the first year, and less thereafter.
DCP Midstream will bring up to 12 permanent jobs to Searsport and truck drivers are likely to spend some money in town, according to Fannon.
"They say, well, trade industrial truckers for some tourists at the restaurant," said Hall. "That's trading lobster for cheeseburgers. That's a $42 plate versus $8 plate. I can't make it work on that."
Impacts on property taxes
The DCP development will increase the valuation of the town, thus triggering an increase in the amount of money the town must pay towards county services and education.
Fannon figured the town's share of county taxes would increase from $398,000 to $458,000 and the town's share of education funding would increase from $2.6 million to $3 million.
However, Fannon estimates the mil rate would go down after the DCP development; she estimates the mil rate would be $18.61 if the town adds additional police coverage.
The report infers that the decline in property values would not be enough of a drop to trigger an increase in the mil rate above $19.80, the 2011 rate.
Impacts on property values
Searsport Town Assessor Bill Terry provided perspective on what sectors contribute the most in property taxes (with personal property included for all but the residential sector).
Overall, residential property made up 63 percent of the total property value in Searsport based on 2011 real estate and personal property evaluation. Lodging, restaurants, and other commercial retail makes up 7.2 percent; industrial value (Mack and Kidder points) makes up 18 percent.
More than one study Fannon reviewed pointed to a domino effect of slow decline in rural areas where large industrial facilities are built, with the most immediate and severe declines in property values within a half mile of the development.
The impact ranged from negligible to a 45-percent decline in property values in the various studies she reviewed.
Fannon concluded that the size of the impact on property values will depend on how close the property is to the DCP tank, how safe the tank is and on how visible the tank is.
She concluded that "It is ultimately up to the Searsport Planning Board to determine the extent of the effect that these issues will have."
Appraisal expert Ted Webersinn, who was hired by Buddy Hall to figure out the impact on Anglers and Bait's Motel, was not so mincing.
He estimated the value of Hall's Searsport real estate and business prior to DCP development at $697,000, as of August 2012.
The figures reflect what a knowledgeable buyer would expect to pay for Anglers restaurant if it was on the open market at a fair price.
Webersinn, an appraisal expert who testifies in federal bankruptcy courts, has done appraisals of the Washington, D.C. Metro rail system, the former Brunswick Naval Air Station and large hotels like the Ritz-Carlton in McLean, Virgina. He has also appraised a lot of Maine motels and restaurants similar to Hall's.
Webersinn found the value of the Anglers business to be nil after development of the DCP facility - essentially unsaleable - with the overall value of the land and any useable property to be $118,000.
That's a loss of $579,000 in value.
The Searsport Planning Board will continue public hearings on the DCP development starting at 6 p.m. on January 16 to 18 at the Searsport High School.