Sebago Zoning Board rejects RV park appeal

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

SEBAGO — Developers of a proposed RV park on Hawkes Road exhausted their last chance to keep the project alive Dec. 28, when the Sebago Zoning Board of Appeals upheld the planning board in saying the project never gained “pending” status because no substantial review of the project ever took place.

John Swanson and his associate, Dan Tocci, had argued before both boards that the project — which initially called for 80 RV lots when it was first proposed to the board in May of 2009 — was never formally denied by the planning board, and so should therefore be considered as pending under the rules in place at that time. Subsequent to May of 2009, the town changed its land use ordinance (in May of 2010) to prohibit RV parks in town. The seasonal RV park, later amended to around 50 lots, was proposed for 32 acres, with easement rights to the town beach on Sebago Lake.

Tocci’s and Swanson’s only recourse now is to appeal the zoning board of appeal’s ruling to Cumberland County Superior Court. Following the two-hour meeting, which drew a packed crowd of residents opposed to the project, Tocci said they have not decided whether to take their case to court.

Tocci said that they assumed the RV park application was still viable because the planning board never took formal action on it within 60 days of their initial appearance before the board on May 14, 2009. He also pointed out that the planning board did not send out a formal letter of denial when the project was brought back to the town this year, and the planning board ruled it was no longer valid on June 14.

Tocci acknowledged that he and Swanson erred in deferring to their engineer, George Sawyer, as to whether they had a complete application when it was first brought before the planning board. When it was determined that many elements were missing for both the local and a state reviews that would be required, Tocci said he went about obtaining that information, which was why it took them so long to come back to the board.

“We never received any information from the planning board that they denied us. Naturally, we assumed we were still pending and went through with our due diligence,” Tocci said. Most of the required reviews are done on the state level, in any case, he added. He also argued that the form the town uses for site plan review applications is not specific enough to allow a developer to provide all of the information the board says it needs in order to consider an application complete.

But planning board member Phil Lowe said the developers had access to a copy of the March 7, 1986 site plan review ordinance that was in effect at the time. In that document, the preliminary requirements, such as showing boundaries of contiguous properties and a 50-foot-per-inch scale, are “very clear and for all to see,” Lowe said.

An abutter, Beverly Buxton of 732 Anderson Road, said she attended that first meeting in 2009, and the RV park was presented only as a concept. Her neighbor, Mike Borcetti, agreed.

“George (Sawyer) said he was putting a feeler out,” Borcetti said. “It seems that this has been a dead project for two years. Why do we have to come back to rehash a dead project?”

An exasperated Tina Vanasse, a member of the planning board, told appeals board members Tocci and Swanson are “desperately trying to find loopholes” to argue that the application is pending, since if it was considered a new application, it would not be allowed. “They talk about my interpretation, your interpretation, on and on and on,” she said. To maintain that the burden of proof resides with the town, and not the applicant, as to whether an application is complete is just one example of the obfuscation, she said.

Appeals board chairman Richard Merritt read from extended portions of the planning board minutes detailing the arguments on both sides, including a legal opinion from the town attorney that validated the board’s initial conclusion that the project was not pending, despite the lack of a formal denial. Merritt said that while it’s arguable that the board could have given more direction on what would constitute a complete application, the fact remains that the application wasn’t complete at that first presentation in 2009.

Member Bruce Hart said Tocci and Swanson should have made a point of returning to the board after that first meeting until they had a complete application. “But the zoning changed…you should have gotten in and had a substantial review before the zoning changed.”

Tocci said he maintains their first presentation was, in fact, a substantial review, which is “an incredibly subjective term” in any case.

Under that logic, said member David McCarthy, a person could make one appearance before the board and keep a project alive for the next 99 years.   

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