The mood was palpable in the hall last week as the Mount Desert Planning Board held yet another session of its public hearings into a request for a quarry license by Hall Quarry landowner Paul MacQuinn and quarry operator Jeff Gammelin of Freshwater Stone.
The applicant was clearly frustrated by a process that has been ongoing, essentially, for more than two years. The neighbors, many of whom purchased property and built homes surrounding the quarry decades ago in the belief that it had long since ceased operations, were frustrated.
The Planning Board itself too was frustrated, as was its attorney, in the seeming inability to move the process forward.
The failure to find some way to wrap up a discussion about noise suppression was so bad at one point that as the chairman looked at other members of the committee for comment, one said out loud, “don’t look at me.”
Certainly, in such adversarial proceedings, it is no surprise that the applicant and concerned neighbors are not going to see eye to eye. But there is one area about which all sides seem to agree.
Before going any further, the question of whether or not quarrying on that site is a grandfathered use needs to be settled, once and for all.
In September 2014, the Planning Board voted by a narrow margin to find that MacQuinn could apply for a license. Three of the five board members said they were giving MacQuinn “the benefit of the doubt” on the question of whether quarrying had been ongoing and, thus, was eligible for grandfathered status.
But opponents rightfully complained that they were not given an opportunity to present contrary evidence. The Planning Board subsequently promised that the opponents would be given that chance at the end of the application review process.
The main problem here, however, is that if there is insufficient legal support for grandfathering – and scant evidence has been submitted so far – the application is null and void. All the work, all the hours spent in meetings, all the anger, all the expense, all the frustration will have been for nothing.
All along, neighbors have asked for a chance to prove their assertions that the quarry site has lain dormant for long periods of time over the past 25 years. And last Tuesday, when confronted with a request from the town that they hire yet another sound expert at their expense, the applicant balked. Attorney Ed Bearor said that if the town was going to require the applicant to pay for another sound expert to advise the Planning Board, then they would like a chance to settle the grandfathering question first.
Bearor is right. And the neighbors are right.
Before putting the application through more grueling hours of public hearing, before requiring the applicant to spend even more money on technical experts, before forcing the neighbors to spend even more money on attorneys and their own experts, the grandfathering question needs to be settled.
While town attorney James Collier seemed dubious at the prospect, holding a public hearing and determining the status of the applicants once and for all is exactly what needs to be done here. The ultimate goal of any public review process is fairness. The grandfathering question should be given a final determination. The parties involved then can decide whether and how to proceed with an appeal. Until then, it’s all in limbo.
For the sake of the applicants, for the sake of the neighbors and for the sake of the Planning Board’s sanity and the integrity of the process, settle the issue of grandfathering now.