A contract-zoning amendment that would allow the Newcastle Center building to continue its present use encountered some
resistance at a public hearing Nov. 21. (J.W. Oliver photo)
By J.W. Oliver
A contract-zoning amendment that would allow a Newcastle apartment building to continue its present use encountered some resistance at a public hearing Nov. 21.
The Newcastle Center building currently violates the Newcastle Land Use Ordinance in “numerous” ways, town attorney Peter Drum said at the hearing.
The building contains 13 apartments, yet only has permits for five “overnight” units and zero apartments.
The 7-11 Hall St. property also fails to meet town standards for a “high-density subdivision,” which is how the town would classify the property, Drum said.
The amendment would change town zoning to fit the present use of the apartment building. Newcastle will vote on the amendment at an upcoming special town meeting.
Juloania Inc. owns the property. Paul Sidelinger is the president and sole shareholder of Juloania Inc. The Newcastle Board of Selectmen, as part of a legal agreement with Juloania Inc., is placing the amendment before the town.
The agreement requires Juloania Inc. to pay a $12,000 fee and address fire- and plumbing-code violations in the building. In return, the town agrees not to impose fines or take action to reduce the number of apartments in the building.
If Juloania Inc. fails to meet the terms of the agreement, the contract zone would be void and the town could impose fines and reduce the number of apartments.
The consent agreement and zoning amendment would not create a legal precedent, Drum said. Instead, it would be a means for the town to address the violations and avoid the possibility of an expensive lawsuit.
Nate Huckel-Bauer, an attorney at the Portland law firm Drummond & Drummond LLP, represents Juloania Inc.
The amendment would bring about “a better outcome for everybody,” Huckel-Bauer said.
“It’s not the perfect resolution, but it is the resolution that is available to resolve the situation,” Huckel-Bauer said.
“If this process doesn’t work out, we’ll go to court and we may end up with the same resolution,” Huckel-Bauer said.
“This is make or break for the property owner,” Huckel-Bauer said. “The property will not pay for itself if it only has six units.”
“It doesn’t create any more likelihood that there will be other types of zoning amendments to deal with violations,” Huckel-Bauer said. “If that’s the right solution for another problem that arises, then that will happen.”
The opponents of the amendment at the hearing each cited different concerns.
The Lee family owns Maine Industrial P & R Corp., which occupies a property next to Newcastle Center. Whitney Lee said Sidelinger and Juloania Inc. should have to obtain permits “within the boundaries of the rules” like other businesses.
“If one guy can bend the rules, then why can’t I?” Lee said. “Why can’t everybody?”
“I hope this works for him, but the reality is, you have to follow the rules and the laws,” Lee said. “If you don’t have rules and laws, you don’t have America.”
Sidelinger has said he obtained the necessary permits at the time of construction, but he and the town subsequently misplaced the permits. He repeated that argument in response to Lee’s comments.
The town has rejected that argument.
“Any idea that somehow the town is responsible for the violations is ludicrous,” Drum said.
Edmee Dejean lives in Newcastle and serves as treasurer of the Newcastle Historical Society. Dejean said her neighbors “are totally against” the amendment.
Newcastle zoning establishes a process for changes to buildings in its design review districts. The ordinance helps maintain an aesthetic that many in town value, Dejean said.
Newcastle design review regulations do not apply because the applicable changes to the building are to the interior, Drum said.
The apartment building has had “substantially the same appearance for many, many years,” Huckel-Bauer said..
Newcastle resident Rob Nelson said the amendment “is not a good direction to go,” regardless of whether it sets a legal precedent.
“I definitely support more density in town, and I think we need to do that looking at the whole area, not an individual property,” Nelson said.
Allan Ray, a neighbor to the apartment building, was the only person at the hearing, besides Sidelinger and his attorney, to defend Sidelinger.
The building “would be pretty well deteriorated now, it would be an eyesore” if Sidelinger had not purchased the building at foreclosure and “fixed up the grounds,” Ray said.
Sidelinger has said Newcastle Center fulfills a need in the community by providing low-income housing.
The hearing before the Newcastle Planning Board precedes a vote on the amendment at a special town meeting at 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 9 at the 86 River Rd. fire station.