Stepping Stones back before Damariscotta Planning Board

435 Main St. proposal passes
Posted:  Tuesday, December 5, 2017 - 3:30pm

The low-income residential project at the former Blue Haven property in Damariscotta, now owned by Stepping Stones, Inc., was back in front of the Planning Board Dec. 4. A September appeal brought by Gabe Shadis, a neighbor of the project, remanded the matter to the Planning Board for clarification.

The Appeals Board wanted to know how the Planning Board decided the seven residences at the property were not “abandoned,” as the appellant claimed.  The process was worked through with one of the town’s lawyers, James Katsiaficas of Perkins/Thompson in Portland. Katsiaficas pointed out to the planning board, which must submit its response to the appeals board, that in the packet of information first submitted, there were records of water and sewer for all seven units, electric bills for all units, the code enforcement officer’s records that all the units were up to code, and that in the public record, there were records that showed taxes had been paid on the units continuously.

“Abandonment is more than just not being used at any given time,” Katsiaficas said. “There has to be intent to abandon the property. All the evidence in this case suggests that there was no intent to abandon the property – the owners were paying taxes, there were electric bills and water bills, and a town employee who was on site said they were not planning to be abandoned.”

“How do you prove there was no intent to abandon the properties,” Shadis asked.

“It’s not up to the town or the planning board to have to prove  a negative,” said Town Planner Anthony Dater. “According to the rules of the appeals board, those who are appealing on a particular ground have to prove their claim.”

After hearing the lawyer’s comments, the board agreed to decide Jan. 8 and return the information to the appeals board. In the meantime, Stepping Stones is free to begin construction on the three units it has permits for.

In other business, the planning board agreed to waive a requirement that parking be behind the buildings at the 435 Main Street project, which is adjacent to the Rifle Club.  Fire Chief John Roberts spoke on the importance of allowing the fire trucks to get close to the building in the front, which would most easily be done with a sturdy paved surface, such as a parking lot, in the front of the building. The design calls for a berm and plantings that would partly screen the parking lot from Route 1B, as well as two smaller buildings that would be closer to the street than the primary building These design elements that are present in the code, according to Chair Jonathan Eaton.

The designers had also redesigned the buildings to meet the New England look that was decided regionally in 2008, with columns, peaked roofing features, pane glass windows, differences in height and color, and New England-like architectural features such as clapboards and cedar-like shingles. 

“I think we have done everything that is required in your code,” said Andrew Sturgeon, director of Maine operations for Hoyle, Tanner and Associates.

“I’d agree,” said Eaton.

The board approved the final project with three items outstanding that would be conditions of approval before a permit is granted or certificate of occupancy awarded: a Department of Environmental Protection permit for a stormwater system and wetland preservation plan, Maine Department of Transportation approval for entry and exit to Route 1B, and a formal agreement to move the right of way for the Rifle Club so that it can access its property.

A new project was also considered Monday. Scott Gray appeared for Zander Lee, who proposed a new nine-house subdivision, Back Meadow Heights, extending from a subdivision near The Farm along Nissen Farm Road. Residents of the existing subdivision were concerned the rules for the new one would differ vastly from the strict rules governing their own, and that the road would not be maintained properly. One of the issues was the potential for duplexes in the new subdivision, which Gray said had come into the matter because the previous owner had added it to the sale agreement. The revised plan included only nine properties instead of the initial 14 planned, and Gray said he was certain that discussions between the subdivisions’ homeowners could be result in mutual satisfaction.  The project will be on the Jan. 8 agenda.

The board changed its meeting time from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m. beginning Jan. 8. The board will continue to meet on the first Monday of the month. However, because the first Monday of January is New Year’s Day, the next meeting is Jan. 8.