Damariscotta Board of Appeals

Stepping Stones loses appeal for three of six units

Posted:  Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 10:45am

On Feb. 5, the Damariscotta Board of Appeals reversed part of the Planning Board’s decision to allow Stepping Stones, Inc. to build six buildings at its properties formerly known as “Blue Haven,” at Hodgdon and Pleasant streets. Blue Haven had been owned by John Andrews, and had been willed to Second Congregational Church and the Lincoln Home, which decided to provide housing services to the poor.

The two parcels had originally held seven units; one stand-alone farmhouse with an in-law apartment; three cottages; a “tiny house”; and a trailer. Stepping Stones tore down the farm house that had needed repair, and planned to replace it, obtaining a building permit in summer 2015, but did not have the funds to complete the rebuild immediately, and instead, began to design a small-housing development on the site. By spring 2016, Stepping Stones sought approval to build seven units, triggering a site plan review by the Planning Board, and facing opposition from neighbors.

After more than a year, changes from seven to six units, several public hearings, and advice from legal counsel, Stepping Stones was granted an approved site plan in April 2017. The six units were to replace the farmhouse and the five existing smaller buildings on the lots. Legal counsel agreed with the planning board, the units were grandfathered because they had not been abandoned, nor had their use changed. Zoning rules would have allowed only three units on the two parcels.

Neighbor Gabe Shadis appealed, with a group now called Concerned Citizens of the Stepping Stones Housing Project. The appeals board rejected two claims by Shadis, that the planning board and code enforcement officer had not considered change of use, and that the planning board had not required Stepping Stones to demonstrate financial capacity to complete the project.

The planning board met Jan. 8, and in a decision dated Jan. 16, provided supplemental findings of fact and the legal counsel’s opinion. On Feb. 5, the appeals board reviewed the planning board’s report and a legal memorandum by the attorney for Shadis et al, Jonathan Hull, outlining the argument that demolishing the structures, as Stepping Stones planned, nullified the grandfathering issue, and the ordinance in effect should be used.

Stepping Stones faced other recent issues. According to comments by Selectwoman Amy Lalime, an elderly tenant suffered from frozen pipes around the holidays and they were not addressed until after the holiday weekend. The tenant was moved from the trailer to one of the cottages and died on Jan. 21, most likely from a fall, according to Lalime. But according to Lalime, she had been living in “extremely deplorable” conditions and had not received adequate social services support. She was discovered by friends several days after her death.

In a letter to selectmen, Stepping Stones described the death as “tragic.” Stepping Stones member and treasurer Bruce Bachelder wrote that two board members had spent a great deal of time trying to help the woman, whom he described as “very disturbed.”

“Our Executive Director, Marilee Harris, had placed several calls to state agencies trying to get this individual help, and was told that if the resident would not come forward to request or accept help there was nothing that anyone could do.”

Bachelder said he was not sure how Lalime wanted Stepping Stones to “force social services upon  this resident. In violation of her rental agreement, the resident refused us access to her unit and refused to answer her phone or return messages.”

Bachelder said the agency filed an eviction notice and she had ignored that, as well. “We simply could not get through to her any other way,” he wrote.

Attempts to reach Police Chief Jason Warlick were not immediately successful.