A public hearing about a Portland developer’s proposal for an 11-acre property at 435 Main St. in Damariscotta attracted more than 50 people to the Great Salt Bay Community School gym Monday, Sept. 18.
The developer, Commercial Properties Inc. CEO Daniel Catlin, along with Andrew Sturgeon, director of Maine operations for Hoyle, Tanner & Associates Inc., and engineer Shawn Tobey, fielded questions about the appearance of the buildings and the project’s impact on Damariscotta’s tax base during the 90-minute hearing before the Damariscotta Planning Board.
Catlin’s plan calls for the construction of three commercial buildings: a 22,000-square-foot-building for two commercial stores, a 5,525-square-foot building with three commercial spaces, and a 2,700-square-foot bank with a drive-thru.
Catlin was first approached by a bank that wants to open a branch in Damariscotta, but after talking with Town Manager Matt Lutkus and Town Planner Tony Dater, he decided to create and present the full master plan for the property, he said.
He has yet to finalize agreements with tenants for the other two buildings, he said. He said he focuses on services and health care for his buildings rather than retail businesses, and would likely seek out similar tenants for the Damariscotta development.
During the public hearing, many statements were followed by rounds of applause from the audience, often splitting the crowd.
Many in the audience expressed concern about the appearance of the buildings. Amy Lalime, a Damariscotta resident for 12 years and one of the circulators of a petition calling for a temporary ban on retail development in Damariscotta, said she is not against development, but is “very concerned” about how things look in town, a statement echoed by others in the audience.
Dr. Minda Gold, a resident and owner of Full Circle Direct Primary Care at 68 Chapman St., received a round of applause from many in the audience when she asked Catlin about the possibility of making the buildings and facade “better fit into (Damariscotta’s) New England landscape.”
“Personally, I’m very proud of the Damariscotta landscape, and I’m not opposed to building, but I think we need to do it responsibly and respectfully,” Gold said.
Several members of the audience spoke in favor of the development, focusing on the impact it would have on the town’s tax base and the jobs it would create.
Even if the new businesses don’t bring full-time jobs to the area, they could bring “good part-time jobs” for high school students and retirees, said resident and Main Street business owner Calvin Dodge.
Speaking about the appearance of the development, Damariscotta resident Jim Campbell said, “what they’ve got here certainly looks very good to me, and with taxes what they are, we need it more than anything.”
Lisa Katz, one of the circulators of the moratorium petition, asked what the town could expect in terms of impact on the tax rate.
Town Manager Matt Lutkus said he doesn’t know what reduction property owners might see as a result of the development. He said both he and the Damariscotta Board of Selectmen hope to reduce the tax rate over time, and any new tax revenue from the development would help to defray taxes for residents.
Sturgeon estimated that the development could result in “about $60,000” in tax revenue for the town, based on Damariscotta’s mil rate of $16.83 and the estimated cost per square foot of building space.
After the meeting, Catlin said this was a “very rough estimate.”
Kimberly Sampson, another circulator of the moratorium petition, said the development could offset Damariscotta’s tax rate more if the buildings were multiple-story, mixed-use buildings.
Planning board Chair Jonathan Eaton said the town’s ordinances do not require mixed-use buildings and, as Catlin’s plan does not call for mixed-use buildings, the topic was not related to the proposal.
Catlin said mixed-use buildings, which he referred to as “lifestyle centers,” are popular in Portland, but the market in Lincoln County “doesn’t really call for” that sort of development.
Newcastle resident Jenny Mayher, an organizer with Our Town Damariscotta, the organization behind the passage of a 35,000-square-foot cap on commercial buildings in Damariscotta, encouraged Catlin to consider a development with mixed-use buildings, which “could have a real future” in the area.
“Damariscotta needs apartments and office space, and this could be on the cutting edge of that,” Mayher said.
Catlin said he would take the concerns about the appearance of the buildings back to his architect to see if any amendments to the plan could be made.
Catlin and Sturgeon said they would likely request a waiver regarding the location of some of the parking spaces. The town’s site plan ordinance calls for parking lots to be behind or to the side of buildings in an effort to separate parking areas from the frontage road, but Catlin’s plan includes parking in front of the 5,525-square-foot building, which faces Main Street.
Catlin expressed concern about customer safety if parking is moved to the back of the building, where operations, loading, and storage areas are typically located.
Sturgeon said that having the parking lot in the front of the building would be in keeping with surrounding commercial properties, including the Dollar General and Sherwin-Williams project at the intersection of Main Street and Biscay Road.
Sturgeon and Catlin were present at a planning board meeting in April in which the board granted a waiver for the location of the Dollar General and Sherwin-Williams parking lot.
Planning board member Shari Sage said she “didn’t see why” the development required parking in the front, and cited Camden, Rockland, and Freeport as examples of successful developments without parking spaces in front of buildings.
When Sturgeon said again that other commercial properties along Main Street have parking in front of buildings, Sage said the “citizens in town are tired of the way things have progressed” relating to commercial development, and she does not see a reason to grant a waiver for the location of the parking lot.
The board and the applicant could reach a compromise in which the front parking area would be reduced slightly with more screening, Eaton said. He said he could not speak for the entire board, but a compromise is possible if both parties can come to an agreement.
Damariscotta Code Enforcement Officer Stan Waltz said it is “totally foolish” to say parking in front is out of the ordinary and listed examples of nearby commercial buildings with parking in front.
As its last order of business for the evening, the planning board scheduled a site visit for 7 a.m., Monday, Oct. 2. The board’s regular monthly meeting will take place in the town office at 7 p.m. the same day.