Planning board approves parking lot on fourth try 

SOUTHWEST HARBOR  In the Planning Board’s fourth meeting reviewing plans for a parking lot and the use of an adjacent private road, which were remanded back to them from the towns Board of Appeals, members of the board approved them last week. 

“They wanted us to be consistent with our land use ordinance,” said Planning Board Chairman Eric Davis, following a comment from Mike Levesque, another board member.
“I feel we’re getting it more wrong,” said Levesque. “We’ve reduced the buffering. Even at level two, it requires abatement for privacy.” 

Two neighbors appealed the Planning Board’s original decision to allow use of entrances from the recently constructed parking lot at 376 Main Street onto 3 Rod Road, a private road that runs adjacent to the lot. One neighbor appealed on the basis that allowing use of the road made it commercial. Another neighbor appealed the buffering requirements, noting they were inconsistent with the north side of the parking lot. Both appeals were based on whether the private road can be used commercially, at which point buffering requirements change. 

“If this is a commercial road, he is prohibited to have a 6-foot fence,” said Davis. 

Earlier this fall, parking lot owner John Williams began a construction project to increase the size of the culvert between the parking lot and road and, in essence, widened the road to commercial use standards.  

“In the end, when it’s all said and done, it will be a minimum of 20 feet,” said Williams. “We’re not looking to go wider than that.”  

Williams is a member of the Planning Board and recused himself for the discussion. 

“Doesn’t the road expansion need a permit?” Levesque asked during the meeting.  

“We’re working on it now,” Davis responded. “It’s supposed to be done first.” 

Davis made a motion that the applicant had met the land use ordinance standard with a road width minimum of 20 feet that allows 20 percent of vehicles traveling on the road to weigh up to 1,200 pounds. Four members of the board approved the motion, with Levesque opposed.  

When another neighbor mentioned to the Planning Board that the lot and road are in the town’s Zone B and it limits expansion to residential use, permission came down to 4 feet. According to the plans submitted by Williams, use of 3 Rod Road as a rightofway is recorded as 30 feet.  

“This says he can only have residential if it’s less than 26 feet,” said deputy code enforcement officer Jesse Dunbar. “This ordinance doesn’t say what he can have if it’s more than that. This ordinance is silent to that.” 

There was a question of whether the ordinance referred to a new or existing road. 

“I would consider this an existing road,” said Davis. “But I would argue the ordinance is silent on roads with a right of way of 26 feet or greater.” 

A motion that the standard was met passed 4 to 1, with Levesque opposed. 

“We’re going back to the point where John does not own the road,” neighbor Craig Raisner said to the Planning Board. “That does not give him permission to do construction on the road without getting permission from all of his neighbors. 

“We do have a legal action going against John,” he added. “Whatever you decide tonight will probably be a waste of time.” 

Planning Board member Ken Salvatore asked for clarification and then asked Davis what the board should do. 

“We proceed,” said Davis. “If they sue him, they sue him.” 

One of the neighbors who launched the original appeal asked about setback requirements and reiterated that the construction work had already been done. After a Planning Board member pointed out that it was not a public hearing, the board voted on whether Williams had met the performance standards required. The motion passed 4 to 1, with Levesque opposed.  

“I don’t feel he’s met the standards for buffering,” he said. “The fence is too short.” 

Near the beginning of the discussion, in an attempt to assuage concerns, Williams told the board that commercial use of the road would be limited.  

“You’re not going to see a big change,” he said. “I’m not going to just throw open these gates and let traffic through there. It’s going to be real intermittent.” 

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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