Citizens group gears up for March 1 fast food, big box referendum

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

A Bridgton citizens group is holding weekly strategy sessions over the next six weeks to build support for a March 1 referendum that may stop the already-approved McDonald’s Restaurant project in its tracks — and prevent any new big box store or chain restaurant developments in the future.

George Bradt, a Bridgton resident who has helped Scott Finlayson and others with the successful petition drive that is forcing the referendum vote, said he expects around 50 people to attend the first meeting in the series, which will be held tonight at 7 p.m. in the basement of the Bridgton Municipal Complex, entering on Iredale Street.

“Obviously there’s a groundswell here,” Bradt said, referring to the nearly 300 residents who signed two petitions that would ban traditionally-defined formula restaurants in Bridgton and limit the size of retail developments to 30,000 square feet.

“We need to roll up our sleeves and get to work” to discuss amending the town’s Site Plan Review Ordinance for the long term, regardless of the outcome on March 1, he said.

Future meetings of the citizen’s group are planned at the same time and place for Jan. 27, as well as Feb. 3, 10, 17 and 24. He said representatives from the citizen’s group will be attending meetings of the selectmen, the planning board and the town’s Economic Development Committee to further the goal of amending Bridgton’s Site Plan Review Ordinance in the long term.

Meanwhile, and separate to the citizen effort, the selectmen and the planning board will be holding a public hearing on both petitions on Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 6 p.m., as required by state law governing citizen initiatives. Town officials have said that it would be inappropriate for the town to begin reviewing long-term amendments until voters have spoken on March 1.

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz, when asked Tuesday if a yes vote on the amendments on March 1 would kill the McDonald’s project planned for Portland Road, said “It’s very possible that it could.” That’s because both petitions stated that the amendments would apply to all projects that were pending as of Dec. 1, 2010 — and the McDonald’s project wasn’t formally approved until January.

“The issue of retroactivity comes into play here,” Berkowitz said. “They were dealing with findings of fact but had not finalized the project.”

Bradt said the citizens’ lawyer who assisted in drawing up the petition language recommended adding the Dec. 1 date for pending applications but that the group was not aware it could be applied retroactively to the McDonald’s project. “We had no idea,” Bradt said.

At next week’s selectmen’s meeting, Lee Eastman, chair of the Economic Development Committee, will be asked to explain how the committee arrived at their decision to recommend that the selectmen go on record opposing both petitions. The board of selectmen split 3-2 on the issue at their Jan. 11 meeting, with dissenting Selectmen Paul Hoyt and Robert “Woody” Woodward saying they wanted to know how that recommendation came to be made.

Alan Manoian, the town’s Director of Economic and Community Development, declined comment when asked by The Bridgton News about the committee’s recommendation, made at their Dec. 6 meeting after the motion was made by member Chuck Renneker and seconded by Jim Mains Jr. The motion also recommended that the board of selectmen “develop alternative approaches and regulations . . . by the production and adoption of alternative land development regulations by town staff professionals.”

Manoian, the town’s staff professional for economic development, added that Berkowitz “is going to be the sole information person” on questions related to the petition effort and referendum. Manoian said he is focusing on efforts to update the town’s comprehensive plan over the next six to nine months.

Berkowitz said Tuesday it has yet to be determined whether the board’s 3-2 recommendation urging voters to reject the referendum questions will appear on the ballot.

Please follow and like us: