ELLSWORTH — It was shaping up to be a contentious evening at City Hall on Oct. 30.
Close to a dozen residents had gathered to attend a Planning Board meeting to speak on a proposal for a zoning change on Lakes Lane, and most weren’t happy with the plans.
“We want our neighborhood to stay as it is,” said Julia O’Neill. “We know what happens over time, and the best of intentions sometimes go awry.”
The move to change the zone from neighborhood to urban had been requested by Brian Spencer of Spencer Properties LLC, the company behind Wallace Events, which has its headquarters in Commerce Park, near the intersection with Lakes Lane and the Bangor Road.
The company decided to make the request, said Spencer, when a nearby property was put on the market.
“When it came up for sale, we, as you guys, were thinking, ‘Geez, who might move in there?’” said Spencer. The company wanted to buy the parcel in part, he said, “so no one else would move in.”
When they began looking into options for how the land could be used, Spencer explained, they noticed that metal buildings are prohibited in the neighborhood zone.
“We have potential ideas down the road — there’s no great plan right now — we have thought, maybe an office building,” said Spencer, or possibly a storage space.
“We may never do anything with it. But that’s potential down the road.”
But the proposal almost immediately butted up against opposition, from both board members and the public.
Board member John DeLeo listed some of the businesses that would be allowed in the future if the change was made: a bar, a retail space up to 15,000 square feet, a community shopping center up to 100,000 square feet, light industry, a gas station and automobile sales and service.
“That is purely a residential neighborhood,” said DeLeo. But with the change, he added, “I wouldn’t want to live there.”
The board opened a public hearing, and one by one, residents stood up to voice their concerns.
The sentiment of most was the same: Wallace Events is a wonderful business and a boon to the city, but Lakes Lane is a neighborhood, not a commercial area.
“Once it’s signed over, once it’s changed to a different use, once it’s sold to somebody else, there’s no control there,” said resident Fred Berry.
“Lakes Lane cannot handle more traffic, more people.”
But roughly half an hour into the meeting, as the parade of displeased residents looked set to continue, Spencer raised his hand to speak and got up again.
“I don’t ever want to be the guy or ever want to be the business that makes people uncomfortable or unhappy living where they are,” Spencer said. “As far as I’m concerned, withdraw the change on my behalf.”
He continued: “If we ever did buy it we’re buying it with zoning as it is. We will stay off your side.”
Wallace Events wants to be a good neighbor, said Spencer. “We will look out for you guys. We’re part of the neighborhood too. We really are. That’s half the reason we were looking at this to begin with — we didn’t want anyone else moving in there.”
He added that he lives on Foster Street, which had been the subject of discussion earlier in the meeting, with a developer planning to put up 53 apartment units there.
“So I get it,” Spencer said.
“Well I think that’s a nice conclusion,” said City Planner Jef Fitzgerald. “I think it ends here. We don’t need to take it any further. The issue is resolved.”
Chairman John Fink applauded the residents and Spencer for coming to a resolution.
“Usually when we see this many people it’s not quite as smooth, the resolution,” he added.