The Damariscotta Planning Board concluded a two-part public hearing concerning a proposed 102-bed nursing care facility on Piper Mill Road on Monday, Dec. 5 and must now make a decision on the application within 30 days.
Members of the public expressed concerns over the size of the facility, its location in a largely residential neighborhood, the traffic it will generate, and whether the project complies with the spirit of Damariscotta’s 2014 comprehensive plan.
Daniel Maguire, of Sandy River Co., defended the project, expressing that he understands and appreciates the comments of neighbors, but that there is a need for a nursing facility in the area.
He said the reason the facility is so big is because each of the 102 bedrooms is private. LincolnHealth also plans to move residents from Cove’s Edge on the Miles Campus in Damariscotta and from St. Andrew’s Village in Boothbay Harbor to the new space.
“It’s not a new service, but it’s an improved service, a very important service for the community,” Maguire said.
He explained that the building has a residential feel and is broken up into six different houses.
At the first part of the public hearing on Nov. 7, Town Planner Isabelle Oechslie laid out details for the site plan review application for construction of the 74,500-square-foot building. She presented all the aspects of the building in relation to the town’s land use ordinance standards for large-scale developments in the rural zone.
The applicant, Clippership Landing Development LLC, is seeking approval to build a 102-bed nursing care facility. Construction will include site improvements including parking areas, two curb cuts for entrances, stormwater management facilities, and courtyard areas and path systems for the enjoyment of residents of the facility, according to the application.
Oechslie indicated that the proposed use of the facility meets all the requirements of Damariscotta’s land use ordinance and will not have an adverse effect on the health, safety, or general welfare of the public.
Oechslie explained that the applicant has requested three different waivers for the project — construction of a 6-foot sidewalk instead of an 8-foot sidewalk, the waiver of a 30-foot minimum buffer strip between the property and another parcel that the planning board agreed to split off for the property owner, and the exemption from submitting a detailed economic analysis.
Jennifer Fox and Tom Hausman said that the large building does not have a “village character” as described in the comprehensive plan. They also expressed that the size puts it out of character with the village expansion area, which is classified as a “growth area” in the plan.
“We are all concerned with the size of this project,” Fox said.
The comprehensive plan states that the area would evolve as an extension of the village with moderate density housing and a “village character.” According to the plan, “the development of senior housing and retirement and eldercare facilities should also be allowed.”
The comprehensive plan further specifies that these types of facilities “should be allowed at a density of up to 12-15 units per acre if served by public sewerage.”
Planning board member Neil Genthner Jr. calculated that the proposed facility meets these stipulations.
“So, 15 units per acre, they’re building on nine acres, you can have 135 units,” Genthner said. “So, according to the way that’s written, that complies with it.”
Genthner said the planning board’s role is to ensure that applications comply with the town’s existing ordinances and that the proposed nursing facility project meets those standards.
Fox also expressed concerns about a proposed two-story, 32-unit senior living building across the street from the proposed nursing facility and that building’s effect on traffic in the area. The planning board discussed the pre-application later in the meeting.
Bill Bray, of the engineering and environmental firm Barton & Loguidice, explained his findings on traffic, stating that the estimated number of trips at peak hours, as determined by the Maine Department of Transportation, are below the department’s standards to initiate the need for a traffic movement permit.
He also indicated that the site distances from Piper Mill Road turning onto School Street were adequate.
“There are no obstructions in either direction,” Bray said.
Bray even offered a fix for the intersection of School Street and Main Street, which is designated as a “high-crash area,” having eight or more crashes in a three-year period, by the DOT.
Bray suggested that the town could, with DOT approval, install two stop signs on Main Street to make the intersection a four-way stop, mitigating traffic there.
Geoff Keochakian, an abutting property owner, read a statement referencing the large size of the proposed building and how it will affect the residential neighborhood in the area. He said he is concerned that there is a “spirit” in town ordinances that is not being considered.
“It dwarfs all the other uses in our neighborhood. It’s completely out of scale,” Keochakian said. “It has the potential to create significant traffic, light, and noise problems for each abutter, nearby landowner, and resident.”
He indicated School Street already has a traffic problem and the development may make it worse. He also noted the project may increase traffic on High Street with people cutting through from downtown to Piper Mill Road.
“I just don’t see this as fitting the spirit of our neighborhood,” Keochakian said.
Andrea Keushguerian, a member of the select board, asked about the light pollution that will be generated from the development.
Andy Johnston, of Atlantic Resource Consultants, said the lighting plan complies with town ordinance when the lights are on. The 16-foot-tall lights are designed with facedown LED fixtures with a softer blue-white color, he said.
The applicant has agreed to turn down the lights at night to reduce light pollution.
“We just have to be careful that there is enough coverage when the lights go into security mode that people are not feeling unsafe when they get to-and-from their vehicles,” Johnston said.
The Damariscotta Planning Board will next meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023 as the town office will be closed Monday, Jan. 2 in observation of New Year’s Day. The board plans to make a final decision on the Clippership Landing development at that meeting.