ELLSWORTH — A lengthy Nov. 4 meeting highlighted limitations the Planning Board faces in addressing community concerns.
While the board’s role is to determine whether a proposed project meets the city’s Unified Development Ordinance and the Subdivision Ordinance, as development increases city-wide some residents are uncomfortable with changing neighborhoods. Yet others welcome additional housing and industry to the city.
Chairman John Fink noted more than once that the board has no real power to meet concerns that are beyond the scope of local regulations.
“Our authority is to make sure that the regulations of the ordinance are met,” he said. “We do not have the freedom to say, ‘I don’t like it.’”
The board unanimously approved a proposed concrete plant in the industrial zone on Bucksport Road, across from Coastal Drilling & Blasting, for operation from April through November, and a 12-unit apartment building on Pine Street. Both drew a crowd and numerous public comments.
Ellsworth developer Jonathan Bates, through his company Opus One LLC, proposed the 64 Pine St. apartment building and said that after meeting with neighbors and community groups, he felt confident in his plan. Yet repeatedly conflicts arose over the design and now he was moving forward for final approval.
Bates purchased the property nearly a year ago and met with neighbors and community groups.
“At first it went really, really well,” he said. “We got numerous positive remarks from people.”
But a final application review in October was tabled to allow Bates more time to satisfy neighbors’ concerns. He hired architect Carla Haskell of the Design Group Collaborative to redesign the façade to a Greek Revival design to match other homes on Pine Street and residents approved — except for the size.
At 64 feet wide and three stories high, the proposed building is significantly larger and taller than its neighbors. Yet, as proposed it meets specifications in the Unified Development Ordinance and Subdivision Ordinance.
Pine Street landlord Rick Traub told the board he had renovated several properties in the city into apartments, and said when he advertises a vacancy, more people inquire than he can contend with.
“I talk to people who literally beg me” to rent to them, he said.
But his concern, like other neighbors, was that the proposed building was just too big and did not fit with the historical nature of the street. At 12,000 square feet, “it’s five times the building right next door and also a story higher,” Traub said. “I understand the economics of building, and I’d say downsize the building and move it back on the street.”
Others raised the historical nature of Pine Street, but Fink said only the parcel before the board is considered when assessing historical impact of the proposed project.
“There are many, many things that I wish we had authority over, but we don’t,” Fink said.
Several people also spoke in favor of the project and also to the larger housing picture.
“I’d hate to think that the obstacles to putting up thoughtful, well-designed projects like the one that Mr. Bates is proposing are going to dissuade other people from continuing to do these kind of things,” local resident and business owner Paul Markosian said, “because it’s bringing more people to the part of the city that doesn’t need extra services extended to them.”
The existing neighborhood was also at issue for a concrete plant proposed by Hughes Bros. Inc., which has operated a plant in Hampden for more than 60 years.
“Any time you have an area that’s changing in any real way, you’re going to have conflict,” board member Rick Lyles said.
Janet Hughes proposes a 9-acre operation located within 95 acres owned by McMullen Landscaping on Bucksport Road, across from Coastal Blasting and Drilling. For residents of Woodland Road next door, this means a significant change in view and noise, residents said.
“Everything between me and Bucksport Road has been clear-cut,” said resident Casey Hardwick. “I couldn’t hear a conversation sitting on my deck [because of existing road noise].”
While the plant’s noise level will meet the city’s noise ordinance, it will add decibels to the street-level noise, Hughes said. And for trucks entering and leaving the plant, merging into fast-moving traffic, Hughes said the Maine Department of Transportation wants her to address the shoulders at the entrance so they can bear more weight.
Kathy Snow said that when she moved into her home on Woodland Road, which is zoned rural, the neighboring zone was light industrial but then changed. She said she’s concerned over heavy industry next to a housing development and whether the Department of Environmental Protection “will follow up and monitor regularly” particulate emissions from the plant.
Board Vice Chairman John DeLeo explained that in 2012, zoning classifications of light industrial and heavy industrial were merged into one industrial zone.
In other business, the board approved a revision to two of the three lots in a Happytown Road subdivision, removing the deed covenant requiring sprinkler systems. The third lot had already been sold and the owner could not be reached. Also approved was a revision to Ellsworth Solar Project on Bucksport Road to allow for a tracker racking system for the panels and the final application for Ellsworth Renewables, also on Bucksport Road.