Our Town, a coalition of residents of Damariscotta and surrounding towns, has filed an appeal of the Damariscotta Planning Board’s decision to approve the 435 Main St. development.
The appeal application was submitted to the town office Friday, March 2, five days before the final deadline.
The 435 Main St. project, proposed by Commercial Properties Inc. CEO Daniel Catlin, consists of three commercial buildings: a 22,000-square-foot building for two retail spaces, a 5,525-square-foot building with three commercial spaces, and a 2,700-square-foot bank with a drive-thru. After several meetings with the developer, the Damariscotta Planning Board unanimously approved Catlin’s application Dec. 4.
Attorney Peter Drum filed the appeal on behalf of Our Town and Anna Jansen, owner of Head Tide Oven at 456 Main St. The appeal application identifies Jansen as a member of the Our Town coalition and states she is “directly aggrieved” by the planning board’s approval of the project.
“The approval was contrary to the ordinance and the planning board lacked sufficient record evidence for a number of (its) findings and made findings that are clearly arbitrary and capricious. Furthermore, the planning board failed to make a number of necessary findings,” the appeal states.
The appeal application lists 22 issues with the planning board’s approval of the project, including two alleged procedural irregularities regarding public hearings and public notice.
The appeal states that the planning board violated the town’s site plan review ordinance by not holding a public hearing about the project once it had deemed the developer’s application complete. The planning board unanimously voted that the application was complete Nov. 13. The appeal application incorrectly states the date on which the planning board found the application complete as Dec. 4.
The planning board held a well-attended public hearing on the application Sept. 18 at Great Salt Bay Community School. During the hearing, many in the audience expressed concern about the appearance of the building.
Catlin later amended the appearance of the 5,525-square-foot building to more closely resemble traditional New England architecture with a gray-and-white color scheme, clapboard siding, and a pitched roof above each storefront. He presented the new renderings during the planning board’s Oct. 16 meeting.
However, the appeal application states that, “by failing to hold the voted public hearing on the final complete application, the planning board deprived the residents of Damariscotta of a meaningful opportunity to comment and be heard.” In particular, the appeal application said, the due process rights of Jansen and Our Town were violated due to the lack of a second public hearing.
The other procedural irregularity addressed in the appeals application is a lack of public notice after the application was deemed complete. According to the appeal application, the notice did not occur.
The appeal application also outlines 20 other findings of fact from the planning board that the appellants say are contrary to the town’s ordinance, outside the board’s reasonable discretion, or lacking a factual basis. These issues include screening for parking and landscaping, among others.
One of the planning board’s main points of discussion while reviewing the developer’s application was Catlin’s request for a waiver for 19 parking spaces in front of one of the buildings in the development.
The town’s site plan review ordinance calls for parking lots to be behind or beside buildings in an effort to separate parking areas from frontage roads, however, the ordinance allows the planning board to grant a waiver if the application includes appropriate screening.
Catlin, along with Andrew Sturgeon, director of Maine operations for Hoyle, Tanner & Associates Inc., and engineer Shawn Tobey, had several discussions with the planning board about how best to screen cars from view in the event the waiver was granted. At the Nov. 13 meeting, Tobey presented a new screening plan showing additional plantings and a berm, or slight hill, that he said would completely conceal parked cars from the view of passing motorists.
The board voted 3-2 to approve the waiver request Dec. 4, with members Shari Sage and Adam Maltese voting against the waiver.
In the appeal application, Our Town requests that the planning board decision “be revoked so that the applicant may bring their application with great specificity and address the concerns of Our Town.” Alternatively, the group requests that the decision be remanded to the planning board for more specific findings of fact.
The Damariscotta Board of Appeals will discuss the application at an upcoming meeting, the date of which has not yet been set.