Neighbors off to strong start in bottled gas appeal

 

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The controversial decision by Bridgton Planning Board members to allow Bridgton Bottled Gas to put in a 30,000-gallon propane tank may soon be coming back to haunt them.

The Bridgton Board of Appeals began its hearing last week of a neighbor’s appeal of the decision. Once lawyers from both sides had presented their case, Appeals Board Chairman John Schuettinger wasted no time in letting his feelings be known.

“It’s a mess, is what it is. I’m very disappointed with the Planning Board,” Schuettinger said.

Members began going through the planning board’s Nov. 3 finding of facts, trying to decide if and where the planning board had failed to consider “substantive” evidence in their site plan review. Guided by advice from their attorney, the Appeals Board took three hours alone reviewing the substantive evidence standard before recessing and calling it a night.

When they resume their review on Thursday, Jan. 7, at 6:30 p.m., members will consider the second legal issue of whether substantive procedural errors occurred in the planning board’s review. Appeals board members have yet to decide whether to remand the decision back to the planning board for another review, or to uphold the appeal.

The board also needs to consider a third area of dispute — whether a conflict of interest took place. Bridgton Bottled Gas owner at the time of the review, Todd Perreault, is also the town’s Assistant Fire Chief and its Emergency Management Director, and he assisted Fire Chief Glen Garland in preparing a fire safety analysis for the project, as the corner of Route 302 and Raspberry Lane.

Perreault and former partner Doug Holt sold the company two weeks after the planning board’s November approval to Stone Road Energy, LLC of Littleton, N.H. Perreault’s lawyer, Christian Chandler of Curtis Thaxter, said the new owner “intends to participate” in the appeal but was not present at Thursday’s meeting.

Raspberry Lane residents Robert and Rita Tyska were represented by Mark Bower of Jensen, Baird, Gardner and Henry. Bower raised numerous points of contention during his opening statement, including the following:

  • Department heads weren’t asked to submit a new impact statement after a new entrance was built to the property;
  • At least one planning board member showed bias against the Tyska’s and other Raspberry Lane residents during an e-mail exchange about how to prepare the findings of facts;
  • The NFPA fire safety analysis had several pages missing and was no more than a form document;
  • The call to “shelter in place” at the end of a dead-end road if a propane leak occurred is simply not sufficient, and not consistent with the site plan review ordinance standard saying access should be “convenient.”
  • The traffic analysis did not consider pedestrian impacts from trucks on the residential town road;
  • Testimony about the impact on air quality, noise and buffering were not given full consideration;
  • No findings as to financial capacity have been made with regard to the new owner.

“The town just needs to start all over with this, and hit the reset button,” Bower said.

Following his presentation, Rita Tyska approached the mic.

“Mark said it all,” she told the board. “We would have to live with this for a very, very long time. There’s no egress — it’s frightening to us.”

Chandler took an equal amount of time refuting Bower’s arguments.

“The board is allowed to rely on its own personal knowledge” of the area and Perreault, the applicant, in its decision-making, he said.

“At the end of the day, this is an existing business. The gas business is not going away. (Bridgton Bottled Gas) has been there since 1998, and it’s expanding,” Chandler said. He said the planning board “did all the proper steps, and they were all supported by the evidence.

During their discussion, appeals board members cited the following deficiencies in the planning board’s review:

  • There was not enough evidence to support the ruling that vehicular access wouldn’t exceed reasonable limits for the neighborhood;
  • The NFPA fire safety analysis was not a complete document;
  • Noise and air quality issues were not sufficiently reviewed;
  • The new owners have not shown evidence of sufficient financial capacity.

The board’s attorney cautioned members not to hold the planning board to a standard of perfection, saying, “There’s always going to be incomplete information. Given what they got, (ask) could a reasonable person reach this conclusion? You can’t demand of the planning board to go beyond the record.”

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