CHINA: Selectmen schedule special meeting for budget workshop

by Mary Grow

China selectmen have scheduled a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 29, to continue work on the warrant for the March 24 town business meeting.

At their Jan. 22 meeting, board members spent almost two hours going over the draft warrant Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux prepared. Major items they did not discuss, or did not decide on, include:

  • Almost $340,000 for transfer station operations, more than $30,000 higher than the current year’s appropriation. L’Heureux said the increase was mostly due to more demolition and debris; costs offset by demo and debris fees that are not reflected in the fund request.
  • Two other transfer station requests, recommended by the Transfer Station Committee: more than $56,000 for a pre-crusher and compactor, and more than $24,000 for a new forklift.
  • About $50,000 to reconstruct the north end of Dirigo Road and about $150,000 to replace a culvert on Bog Road.
  • Up to $20,000 for a water system and septic system – but not a toilet — at the former Weeks Mills school house. Selectmen were not sure whether the building could be connected to Weeks Mills Water Company’s line or whether a well would be needed. (ep)

Potential expenditures not yet presented as warrant articles include: (ep)

  • Possible purchase of the Bailey property at the head of China Lake as part of the Tax Increment Finance Committee’s plan to expand recreational opportunities there, a question on which TIF Committee member Ronald Breton said he intends to seek a vote when the committee meets at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 29. The landowner is asking $120,000 for the land; Breton proposed offering $110,000, with the purchase conditional on the land being found suitable for a parking lot.
  • A request from the Planning Board to appropriate funds — $20,000 and $24,000 have been suggested – for a consultant to update China’s comprehensive plan, an item tentatively scheduled on the selectmen’s Feb. 5 agenda.
  • Possible purchase of land around the new fire pond on Neck Road, with no cost estimate. (ep)

The fire pond was the other major topic at the Jan. 22 meeting. China Village Fire Chief Tim Theriault and others involved described it as 10 or 12 feet from the shoulder of Neck Road; about 35 by 75 feet; and about 20 feet deep, with steep sides so that a person, animal or vehicle that went into it would not be able to get out.

Selectmen agreed they should have given more thought to safety before asking voters to appropriate up to $8,500 for the pond, money that has been spent digging it. They debated various options for half an hour – temporary fencing until the ground thaws? Permanent fencing now? Snow fence, guard rails, Jersey barriers, chain-link fencing?

A related issue was how much liability would be the town’s and how much the landowner’s if there were an accident. L’Heureux said so far there is no easement or other document defining respective rights and responsibilities.

Ultimately, selectmen voted 4-1 to direct L’Heureux to get bids on buying and promptly installing steel guardrails, with a maximum cost of $6,000 to be taken from the $55,000 contingency fund voters granted selectmen in March 2017. Donna Mills-Stevens voted against the motion on the ground that the cost was too high, especially since voters had been asked for $8,500 on the assumption that amount would cover the project.

A majority of the board informally recommended redesigning the interior of the pond to add a way for a person or animal to get out.

In other business Jan. 22, selectmen made three appointments: Milton Dudley as Planning Board member from District 2, until November 2019; Bill Van Wickler as chief of the Weeks Mills Volunteer Fire Department; and Linda O’Connor as a member of the Transfer Station Committee.

CHINA: Selectmen’s meeting to be preceded by RLF committee meeting

The Jan. 22 China selectmen’s meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m., will be preceded by a 6:30 p.m. meeting of the Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) subcommittee of the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee. Both meetings will be in the town office.

The RLF subcommittee is meeting to approve an agreement with the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments to administer China’s revolving loan fund. The fund uses money from China’s TIF program for small auxiliary loans to help start or expand local businesses.

The full TIF Committee is tentatively scheduled to meet Monday evening, Jan. 29.

CHINA: Varneys withdraw application for commercial gatherings; to explore other options

by Mary Grow

Parris and Catherine Varney have withdrawn their controversial application for a permit to allow commercial gatherings and events in their barn at 701 Neck Road.

In a Jan. 9 letter to Codes Officer Paul Mitnik, Palermo attorney Matthew Evans, representing the Varneys, said, “In light of the irrational, to the point of being delusional, opposition to the Barn Venue,” the couple decided to make no additional financial investment in the project.

“Unfortunately, the process has been dominated by a mob mentality,” Evans added.

He wrote that the Varneys will continue to use the barn as a private venue. They have plans for a different use and will apply for appropriate permits.

The Varneys first applied for a planning board permit in September 2016. Neighbors expressed a variety of concerns, arguing that traffic, noise and lights from the proposed activity would disrupt a quiet rural area and create inconvenience and hazards.

Subsequent proceedings involved the planning board, board of appeals and Kennebec County Superior Court.

At their Dec. 2017 meeting, planning board members agreed they needed to begin re-reviewing the application. They had scheduled a Jan. 16 public hearing to give neighbors and other interested residents another chance to comment; the hearing was deleted from the Jan. 16 agenda.

Because China has minimal zoning, commercial development is allowed almost everywhere in town if the developer can meet ordinance criteria. The criteria include traffic safety, lack of adverse effects in adjacent property values and the most discussed in the Varney case, the requirement that the project “will not have a significant detrimental effect on the use and peaceful enjoyment of abutting property as a result of noise, vibrations, fumes, odor, dust, glare or other cause.”

VASSALBORO: Groups agree communications are good among agencies

by Mary Grow

At the instigation of new board member John Melrose, Vassalboro selectmen invited town emergency responders to their Jan. 11 meeting to talk about response to the October 2017 windstorm, which left many parts of town without electricity for days.

Representatives of police and fire departments, First Responders and the public works department agreed that cooperation among town agencies was generally good. The main area of misunderstanding, Fire Chief Eric Rowe said, was between local residents and Central Maine Power Company. He questioned whether CMP officials put as much emphasis on public safety as local people do.

Rowe said emergency responders cannot touch anything that touches a power line, like a tree blocking a road, no matter how sure neighbors are the line is dead. Should a generator be feeding into the line, anyone trying to remove the tree could be electrocuted.

Consequently, he said, firefighters had to tell frustrated residents they could not help until CMP showed up. When the firefighters left, residents often dealt with the problem themselves, he said, despite the danger. The policy leaves no one happy.

Road Foreman Eugene Field added that he offered equipment to assist CMP, but his offers were not accepted.

Vassalboro emergency personnel recognized that CMP and imported crews were dealing with a major situation and delays were unavoidable.

Field said his crew and state transportation people had no problems working together.

When Melrose asked about hypothetical future needs, the only suggestion was a large well-equipped emergency shelter with handicapped access and a guaranteed power supply.

Selectmen dealt with routine business items for the rest of the meeting, including:

  • Completing the sale of a tax-acquired former subdivision on Ilona Drive;
  • Renewing the annual agreement with Kennebec Water District for operation of the China Lake outlet dam in East Vassalboro; and
  • Signing a letter of intent to apply for Community Development Block Grant funds on behalf of Vassalboro Sanitary District to help with the planned hook-up of Vassalboro sewers to Waterville and Winslow.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting will be Thursday evening, Jan. 25, at the new time, 6:30 p.m. Town Manager Mary Sabins said the agenda is likely to include an updated presentation on LED streetlights.

Erskine to hold parent/teacher conferences

Erskine Academy has scheduled Parent/Teacher Conferences on Wednesday, January 17, from 3 to 7:30 p.m. (snow date will be Thursday, January 18). Progress reports will be emailed to parents by January 16. For those parents who have not yet submitted a primary email address, please stop by the Guidance Office for a printed copy of your student’s progress report. No appointments are necessary as teachers will be available to speak with parents in their respective classrooms. Refreshments will be available in the library and the Sports Boosters will be selling Erskine apparel and other merchandise during the evening.

In addition, a representative from the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) will be at the school to present information on paying for college. Soup and salad will be served in the cafeteria from 5 – 5:30 p.m., for attendees. The FAME presentation will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the cafeteria and will end at approximately 6:20 p.m. In addition to financial aid information, the Guidance Department will provide information about course offerings and dual enrollment opportunities.

Please feel free to contact the Guidance Office at 445-2964 with any questions or concerns regarding this information.

CHINA: Short agenda leads to variety of discussions

by Mary Grow

China selectmen turned a short agenda into a variety of discussion topics at their between-holidays meeting on Dec. 27.

Called primarily to pay biweekly bills, the meeting included updates on the road crew’s work in the Christmas storm and on the new Neck Road fire pond; proposals to record selectmen’s meetings and to change the meeting time; ways to find a successor to Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux, who is retiring at the end of June; and plans to look into increased police service.

L’Heureux said the town road crew put in more than 50 hours during the Christmas storm, with satisfactory results. The new plow truck, which cost $77,000 plus trade-in, was in service, he said.

Board member Jeffrey LaVerdiere asked about progress on the fire pond, for which voters appropriated up to $8,500 in November. L’Heureux said the state Department of Environmental Protection approved the project, and digging to enlarge the existing pond started.

He doubts it will be possible to build a parking area for fire trucks to load water until spring. Also, he said, the town needs to get land and water easements from the two landowners involved.

Selectman Donna Mills-Stevens asked for further clarification from the state DEP on an old unresolved issue of alleged dumping on nearby land. The letter approving the fire pond does not appear to address the question, she said.

Mills-Stevens was the board member who proposed recording meetings. Board Chairman Robert MacFarland asked L’Heureux to look into the idea. Based on experience with written records, the manager doubted many residents would ask to hear recordings if they were made.

L’Heureux intends to present the draft 2018-19 budget at the board’s Jan. 8 meeting – he is still waiting for a small number of requests to arrive, he said. To allow time to begin budget review, board members agreed to start the Jan. 8 meeting at 6 p.m. They then discussed whether to change the meeting time permanently. Mills-Stevens said people tell her the meetings start and end too late; Irene Belanger said starting before 7 p.m. would not leave much time for working people who wanted to attend to eat supper first. No decision was made.

LaVerdiere told the board he knows an area resident with experience running offshore drilling rigs who might be interested in the manager’s position. His comment sparked discussion of ways to advertise the position. After the meeting, L’Heureux asked the Maine Municipal Association, of which China is a member, what assistance its staff can provide.

MacFarland reported that he and L’Heureux plan to meet with Oakland Police Chief Michael Tracy and Sergeant Tracey Frost, two of the Oakland officers who serve China, to talk about possibly increasing hours of coverage.

The China Board of Appeals is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 4, to hear two administrative appeals from Bio Renewable Fuels Corp. on Dirigo Road. On Saturday, Jan. 6, the Four Seasons Club sponsors a rabies clinic from 11 a.m. to noon. More information on these and other meetings and events is available on the town website.

Vassalboro Selectmen plan ahead; set holiday schedule, and town meeting date for June 4

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen spent most of their Dec. 14 meeting planning ahead, including proposing multiple events in which town voters will – or should – take part.

One of the longer discussions was over the Christmas holiday schedule. State employees have been given holiday time from Friday, Dec. 22, through Tuesday, Dec. 26, and some municipalities follow the state schedule.

For Vassalboro, selectmen eventually agreed on what they consider fair treatment for town office and transfer station staff. The town office will be open until noon Friday, Dec. 22, and closed through Monday, Dec. 25. The transfer station will be open as usual Saturday, Dec. 23; on Sunday, Dec. 24, it will close at noon. Both facilities will open as usual Tuesday, Dec. 26, the transfer station at 6:30 a.m. and the town office at 8 a.m., and will be open all day.

Town Manager Mary Sabins presented a draft schedule of 2018 selectmen’s and budget committee meetings leading up to the annual town meeting. In 2018 the open town meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, June 4, with local elections and any other written-ballot items to be decided Tuesday, June 12.

As requested by selectmen, Sabins had a cost estimate for mailing a postcard reminder of the town meeting to each voter: about $1,000. Considering the expense is not in the current year’s budget, and doubting the cards would influence many voters, selectmen agreed by consensus not to do a mailing.

Also on the Dec. 14 agenda was the selectmen’s schedule of their own meetings. They agreed not to meet Thursday, Dec. 28, and to schedule their normal 2018 meetings, beginning Thursday, Jan. 11, at 6:30 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.

Not included in Sabins’ draft 2018 schedule are two other major items, one definite and one possible.

Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) #92 officials asked Vassalboro officials to hold a Tuesday, March 13, referendum on dissolving the AOS. Sabins had a ballot question prepared by the AOS’s attorney. She said polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the vote; she believes state law now requires that absentee ballots be available 60 days before the vote, instead of 45 days.

Selectmen were reluctant to schedule the referendum without a request from and discussion with the Vassalboro School Board, but given the absentee ballot timeline went ahead. Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus commented that either the school board or the selectmen should hold a public informational session before the vote.

Vassalboro voters might have an amended ordinance and a new ordinance to approve or reject either June 4 or June 12. If the planning board and selectmen agree to present one or both, public hearings will be required.

Codes Officer Richard Dolby gave selectmen drafts of the ordinances at the Dec. 14 meeting, an amended Building Permit Ordinance and a suggested new Tiny House Ordinance.

Dolby and planning board members have discussed the need to update the Building Permit Ordinance. Major changes are additions of references to relevant sections of the International Building Code, the International Existing Building Code and the International Residential Code. The codes are in a stack of books more than six inches high; Dolby showed selectmen a more reasonably sized summary that he said covers most local situations.

Dolby got a draft Tiny House Ordinance at a recent conference. Tiny houses, defined in the draft he has as residential buildings with less than 400 square feet of floor area, excluding lofts, are becoming more common, he said, and do not necessarily fit under building codes designed for larger residences.

Dolby also discussed with selectmen two ongoing land use violations, and board members mentioned other properties in town that appear not to conform to local regulations. Since the town attorney has not had time to address the violations, Dolby said he intended to find out procedures for beginning court action under his authority as Codes Officer. Selectmen did not object.

In other business Dec. 14, Sabins and Titus reported complaints and queries from residents visited by assessors asking to inspect their properties, part of Vassalboro’s routine quarterly reviews. Sabins said in addition to the sign on the vehicle door, assessing agents carry an identifying letter from her. Anyone uneasy about admitting them can ask them to return at another time, for example when more family members will be at home, or can refuse admission and let the assessors estimate the value of the property.

Board members approved Sabins’ draft request for bids for a new contract for solid waste hauling, with one addition. Sabins has a list of waste haulers who will be invited to bid; bids are due at the town office by noon Monday, Jan. 22.

Cemetery Committee member Jody Kundreskas asked selectmen to waive the town procurement requirement that says any purchase of goods or services over $2,500 needs to be bid out, in order to spend $3,500 plus expenses for an expert from New York State to do five days’ worth of stone repairs in Cross Hill Cemetery. Selectmen unanimously approved the waiver and asked for a more specific figure before they decide on the actual expenditure, which Sabins said would come from the Cross Hill Cemetery account.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11.

China Board to review Varney application, hold public hearing

by Mary Grow

At their Dec. 12 meeting, China Planning Board members heard pieces of two applications that will be before them again in January 2018 and later.

One they have already reviewed at length, Parris and Catherine Varney’s controversial application to use their barn at 701 Neck Road for weddings and other private, community and public events.

The second was a preliminary presentation on the proposed Dollar General store at the intersection of Route 3 and Windsor Road. Board members had numerous questions and suggestions for project representative Chris Nadeau, who said he plans to bring in a formal application in the spring of 2018.

Given the long history of reviews of the Varney project, which involved the town planning board and board of appeals and Kennebec County Superior Court, board members decided last month they need to rehear the application from the beginning. On Dec. 12, they voted unanimously that the application is complete and heard a short presentation from attorney Matt Evans, of Palermo, representing the Varneys.

Half a dozen interested residents were in the audience, and Board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo said he and the rest of the board had received numerous emails – 10 or 12, member Toni Wall estimated – supporting the application, some arriving just before the meeting.

The board therefore voted unanimously to hold a public hearing to consider public concerns and answer questions. They scheduled it for Tuesday evening, Jan. 16, a week later than their usual second-Tuesday meeting.

Nadeau said the Dollar General store will be a 7,500-square-foot building, the smallest the chain builds. The lot on which it is to sit, currently site of a house Miragliuolo said is 173 years old, is a little under an acre, barely meeting China’s minimum lot size requirement of 40,000 square feet.

The plan includes about 30 parking spaces. The entrance will be off Windsor Road, as far as possible from Route 3. Nadeau said the state Department of Transportation requires the driveway be 125 feet from the intersection, but might approve a waiver if the distance were only a little short.

Planning board members commented that drivers turning right off Route 3 are often traveling fast, creating possible problems with traffic, especially delivery trucks, turning into the store lot.

Nadeau said Dollar General stores are usually open seven days a week from 7 or 8 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. Hours vary with location and customer demand, he said.

Board members queried plans for screening the property, lighting, the well and septic system and planned dumpsters. Miragliuolo suggested Nadeau talk with neighbors about their preferences for things like screening and lighting.

The board chairman asked Nadeau if there would be extensive blasting during construction. Nadeau said test borings will locate ledge, if there is any.

Nadeau plans to submit a formal application early in 2018. Assuming approval, the tentative schedule calls for construction in the summer and a store opening in the fall. The only other permit-related item on the Dec. 12 agenda was final approval of the application for Kennebec Community Church to run a satellite church in the former Fairpoint building on Route 3. After re-reviewing the findings of fact justifying the vote that the proposal meets all China ordinance criteria, board members unanimously approved the permit.

Board members were also unanimous in agreeing not to hold a Dec. 26 meeting. The Jan. 16 hearing will be their next meeting.

Vassalboro Selectmen to hear CEO, act on ongoing town land use violations

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, with an agenda that includes discussions with Codes Officer Richard Dolby.

Dolby has drafted revisions to the Building Permit Ordinance (last revised in 2012), which need selectmen’s review and ultimate approval by voters. He is also scheduled to talk about two ongoing violations of town land use ordinances.

Other items on the Dec. 14 agenda are final action to sell a foreclosed-upon subdivision on Ilona Drive, a report on the cost of mailing town meeting notices to voters, discussion of solid waste disposal and cemetery maintenance and a preliminary schedule for selectmen’s and budget committee deliberations in preparation for the June 2018 annual town meeting.

Vassalboro selectmen’s meetings are held in the town office meeting room and are open to the public.

Vassalboro: Planners approve new business, home

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members approved both applications on their Dec. 5 agenda, allowing a new business on Riverside Drive and a new house on Webber Pond Road.

Troy LaBreck is leasing the Getchell building at 2252 Riverside Drive, at the Alpine Street intersection, to run a business repairing motorcycles, snowmobiles, four-wheelers and similar sports machines. He might later include sales and car repairs and used car sales, he said; he is a Ford Focus fan.

For now he plans to start slowly, with no regular employees – though other mechanics might occasionally use some of his space – and no major exterior or interior changes. Planning board members reviewed plans for lighting, waste disposal and related issues that might affect the environment or neighboring landowners. They approved the permit with two conditions, both acceptable to LaBreck:

  • LaBreck is to notify abutters, and if any have questions or objections, they will have a chance to speak to the board before the permit is final; and
  • Labreck is to put a screen around the dumpster he plans to put on the property. Marilyn Hudxina needed planning board approval for her new house on Webber Pond Road abutting Kennebec Land Trust’s Vassalboro Wildlife Habitat area because the building site is within the 250-foot shoreland district. Board members found the house will be outside the 100-foot shoreland zone on a conforming lot and quickly granted the permit.

The next regular Vassalboro Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Jan. 2, 2018.