McDonald’s project, microbrewery approved by planning board

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

The developer of a proposed McDonald’s restaurant on Portland Road won the approval of the Bridgton Planning Board Tuesday night, as did a pub and microbrewery planned for a downtown Pondicherry Square location.

The planning board’s approval of McDonald’s is conditional upon the project receiving applicable Department of Environmental Protection and Maine Department of Transportation permits.

Meanwhile, local business owner Tom Churches has informed the planning board he is formally withdrawing his application to construct a five-unit retail store building on Portland Road (Route 302).

Additionally, Beef & Ski owner Peter Kopoulos told The Bridgton News that he will appeal the planning board’s Dec. 7 decision to only allow him to have a temporary sign displayed at his restaurant and pub business on Portland Road through March 1, 2011. After that, he must remove his temporary sign, the planning board ruled.

Nearly 50 people attended Tuesday night’s meeting of the Bridgton Planning Board, several of whom were disappointed when Chairman Steve Collins announced that no public input could be received on any “new information” — or information that had not been presented and vetted at the board’s Nov. 16 public hearing on developer Mark Lopez’s proposal for the McDonald’s restaurant and commercial space at the intersection of Portland and Willett Roads near the corner of the site where Hancock Lumber is located.

At the outset, Collins announced that the board members had sought a legal opinion from Attorney Richard Spencer who advised them not to allow comment on any “new information” submitted at Tuesday night’s deliberative planning board meeting, as it could “not be included as part of the record.”

The planning board found that the McDonald’s project met all applicable review standards contained in the town’s Site Plan Review Ordinance, the boilerplate for approving all commercial applications. The 24 standards for review include: preserve and enhance the landscape; relationship to surroundings; vehicular access; parking and circulation; surface water drainage; setbacks and rights-of-way compliance; existing utilities; advertising features; special features of the development; exterior lighting; emergency vehicle access; (impact on) municipal services; protection against undue water pollution; protection against undue air pollution; water use; protection against unreasonable soil erosion or reduction in the capacity of the land to hold water so that a dangerous or unhealthy condition may result; protection for adequate sewage waste disposal; protection against any undue adverse effect on the scenic or natural beauty of the area, aesthetics, historic sites or rare and irreplaceable natural areas; protection of waters and shoreland; limit of noise levels; conformance with Comprehensive Plan for the town; compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (handicapped accessibility); location in a flood zone; and proof that the applicant has adequate financial and technical capacity to meet the above standards.

Later on, as it became obvious the planning board was going to rule that Lopez had met the standards required in the town’s Site Plan Review Ordinance, many of the attendees rose from their seats and quietly exited the meeting room.

Dee Miller again made a motion that the planning board members perform a site walk of the proposed site for the McDonald’s restaurant, and as happened at a previous meeting, her motion died, for lack of a second.

“I object to the absence of a formal site walk in connection with this application,” said Miller, in a statement she read aloud Dec. 7. “The proposed site is admittedly problematic and the board needs as much first hand information as possible. Where is the bank to be cut, what green space will be preserved, what portion of the lot is to be filled in, where exactly is the entrance? The answers to these questions exist only on paper. I realize that a site walk is optional, but is exercising good judgement also optional? How can members of this board act responsibly without a complete documentation of the site? I certainly cannot.”

Miller went on to suggest that perhaps, by their failure to grant her request for a site walk, her fellow board members “have either made up their mind, or they are worried about what they might find.”

Miller also addressed what she called her “second concern”, saying, “This issue is not about hamburgers. It’s about marketing. It’s about Bridgton’s brand identity: a unique New England town representing characteristics of independence, ingenuity and integrity. The Site Plan Review Ordinance promotes our brand including language meant to prevent unfavorable development.” Miller said the 24 standards applicants must meet in the Site Plan Review Ordinance “are a means to that end and there is similar intent in our current comprehensive plan…It may be a bum rap, but McDonald’s has become a symbol of the homogenization of America (really, the world). Everything is beginning to look alike….It is possible that the presence of McDonald’s, and what may come after, will make marketing the town more difficult because our brand identity could be undermined.”

Planning Board member Gordon Davis took issue with Miller’s statements, citing a ruling by Maine’s highest court regarding a citizens’ appeal to Superior Court of the Town of Fryeburg planning board’s approval of Nestlé’s Poland Spring truck-filling station in East Fryeburg. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a planning board “could not deny (a project) for failure to comply with the comprehensive plan,” Davis said.

“So, that’s kind of moot,” Davis told Miller.

Davis also chastised Miller for citing her own personal reasons, as a voting member of the planning board, as to why the McDonald’s project should possibly be denied.

Citing the Planning Board Manual used by Bridgton’s planning board, Davis stated, “One of the specific statements in the manual — I believe it’s on Page 18 — is that, as a planning board, we are a judicial board, (and) we are not allowed to decide whether something is good or bad for the community.”

Another planning board member, Fred Packard, stated, “There are several areas of our comprehensive plan this (McDonald’s) project does comply with, because this (Portland Road/Route 302) is the area (identified) for (commercial) growth.”

There was extended discussion during which concerns were expressed regarding designated wetlands on the McDonald’s site, prior to the planning board’s vote to approve the fast-food restaurant project.

Colin Holme, representing the Lakes Environmental Association, told the planning board, “I am here tonight for one reason — because this is a water quality issue. Everything (from the McDonald’s site) flows in to a little brook and then into Long Lake…Most developers would look at this site as undevelopable.”

Davis suggested that, in the past, LEA had “been compliant” when commercial projects that included wetlands were required to pay a monetary fee in exchange for disturbing wetlands, with those fees often going to LEA as the locally-designated non-profit water quality organization. Davis wondered aloud if the LEA’s objections were raised with the McDonald’s project, primarily because they would not be receiving a check. Chairman Collins subsequently ruled Davis’s comments out of order.

Tom Dubois, of Main-Land Development Consultants, that represents developer Lopez, said the project meets the state’s requirements in dealing with how stormwater runoff and phosphorus loading will be mitigated. He said the plan is to install a “soil filter.”

“We’re passing the water coming from offsite through a pipe,” Dubois stated. “We’re not doing anything to it. We’ll put a geo-textile down, before we (back)fill, that allows water to filter.”

Tom Churches Jr. withdraws project plan

Tom Churches Jr. did not attend Tuesday night’s planning board meeting.

However, in his letter of withdrawal to Collins dated Dec. 5, Churches wrote: “Dear Mr. Chairman, I am sorry to inform you that I will be removing my application for the project on Route 302. I do apologize for any inconvenience or time that I have wasted with your fellow board members.” Churches did not list any specific reason or reasons for the withdrawal of his project plan.

Originally, Churches had proposed constructing a high-tech go-kart track at the property on Portland Road, which Bridgton Drive-In owner John Tevanian openly opposed. Churches later scaled back his proposal into separate phases, with the five retail store spaces being the first and only phase formally proposed to the planning board.

Temporary sign appeal

Beef & Ski Restaurant owner Kopoulos thanked the planning board members for voting in favor of allowing him a three-month waiver to continue displaying his temporary sign until March 1, 2011, now that the town has decided to strictly enforce an existing ordinance prohibiting temporary signs from becoming permanent.

However, Kopoulos said Dec. 7 he plans to appeal the planning board’s decision.

Packard told Kopoulos that if he re-arranged the permanent sign on his property so it is “more perpendicular to the road” that might solve his perceived problem.

“I do agree with Gordon (Davis),” Packard told Kopoulos. “We are working on (revising) the sign ordinance. I don’t have a problem with granting a waiver, but it’s got to be time specific, because within six months there will be a floodgate of other business owners seeking a waiver.”

A motion made by Davis to allow Kopoulos to display his temporary sign until the annual town meeting in June failed, by a vote of two in favor and three opposed. Another motion, allowing Kopoulos to keep the temporary sign up until March 1, 2011 passed by a vote of four in favor, with only Miller opposed.

Prior to the planning board’s rendering of their decision on his requested temporary sign waiver, Kopoulos said, “We’re not talking about a $50,000 sign. These auxiliary signs are made to attract attention.” He said many of his customers come in and when offered a menu, they say, “Hell no, we want what the sign outside says the special is.”

“There’s a recession,” Kopoulos told the planning board members, “and business is slowing down, and the first thing you’re going to say to me is, ‘Take down the sign.’ Come on. We’re talking about an auxiliary, eye-catching, productive sign that’s been effective in every town in America.”

Chairman Collins explained to Kopoulos that the town’s Sign Ordinance regarding temporary signs is being more strictly enforced “because they’re too frequently not maintained and become a blight.”

“Fine those people,” Kopoulos replied. “Why is that fair to me? Why is that fair?”

When asked if he intends to appeal the planning board’s decision, Kopoulos said, “I do.”

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