Committee to revise comprehensive plan

by Mary Grow

China’s Sept. 25 Compre­hensive Plan Committee meeting began with Kennebec Valley Council of Governments planner Joel Greenwood and one committee member; eventually, three more members arrived for a rambling discussion of the comprehensive plan sections on economic development and transportation.

The committee’s purpose is to develop a revised comprehensive plan to replace China’s 2008 version. Greenwood said at an earlier meeting he expects a draft by the end of the year, local and state review early in 2020 and perhaps acceptance or rejection by voters at the 2020 town business meeting in March or early April.

At the Sept. 25 meeting, those present reaffirmed a July decision to encourage focusing economic development along the Route 3 corridor (see The Town Line, Aug. 8) and agreed that attempts to provide public transportation have not been successful.

Informal suggestions for promoting economic development included installing water and sewer systems (Irene Belanger’s idea that she and everyone else agreed would be too expensive to be practical); reducing taxes, especially the personal property tax (Tom Rumpf’s idea); or installing a charging station for electric cars (Belanger’s idea).

Rumpf would especially like to bring in manufacturing, which would add employed people to the local population, and more retail businesses. Retirement homes and medical facilities would also be useful and would work together, he pointed out. Town water and sewers would be an incentive for that kind of development, Belanger said.

Rumpf, president of the China Four Seasons Club, told the group recreational trails are an important asset. China has 57 miles of trails, he said, and people on snowmobiles and four-wheelers bring significant amounts of money into town.

The next Comprehensive Plan Committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23. Interested residents are welcome.

Board finally approves medical marijuana business

Location of proposed medical marijuana operation on Route 3 in China. (photo from Google maps streetview)

by Mary Grow

At their Sept. 24 meeting, China Planning Board members unanimously approved Clifford Glinko’s much-discussed application to open a two-part marijuana business in South China (See The Town Line, Sept. 12 and Sept. 19).

Glinko, a licensed medical marijuana caregiver, plans to divide the building that formerly housed Mainely Trains and other businesses into two separate suites. One will be a medical marijuana growing space, the other a retail store for recreational marijuana accessories.

The building is in a Resource Protection Zone because it is close to wetlands. Agricultural operations are allowed in this zone. A new business would not be, but planning board members found retail use of the building is grandfathered, because it has been used for retail purposes up to September or October 2018.

Board members voted unanimously that the proposed businesses met all criteria in China’s Land Use Ordinance. They added five conditions to the permit, all of which Glinko readily accepted:

  • The retail suite must meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for designation of handicapped parking and accessibility.
  • The septic system must be inspected twice a year by the codes officer and, if it fails, replaced with a holding tank; Glinko said Jack Lord, who runs a soil testing business in South China, has designed a replacement. Board members believe the current system is a pre-1958 cesspool which is grandfathered and can be used until it fails.
  • If the state fire marshal requires a sprinkler system, Glinko must provide evidence that the well provides enough water. Glinko has no information on the well; he said he does not expect he will be required to have a sprinkler system.
  • Glinko is not to do any manufacturing in connection with his growing operation. State law defines manufacturing in two different places, board members found. They agreed manufacturing does not include basic operations like drying the plants.
  • The two businesses must be clearly and completely separated, with a firewall between them and separate entrances. People working in the growing area will be allowed to use the toilet facility in the retail area.

Action on the application has been repeatedly postponed because board members and town attorney Amanda Meader found state law and regulations keep changing.

Board members also got inconsistent information. For example, a Department of Education spokesperson told Ralph Howe that Glinko’s business had to meet the 1,000-foot setback requirement from a school (Grace Academy is a private school on the south side of Route 3). Meader, working cooperatively with Maine Municipal Association legal staff, found the setback was not required for cultivation facilities.

“This has been a learning experience for all of us,” board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo commented as the Sept. 24 meeting ended with mutual thanks and praise for Meader.

The next planning board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 22.

Two successive codes officers correct in allowing structure

by Mary Grow

The China Board of Appeals ruled unanimously Sept. 26 that two successive town codes officers were correct when they allowed Nicholas Namer to add a structure – exactly what it is was one of the points in contention – on his waterfront lot where his mother could live in the summer.

Neighbors Kimberly and Anthony LaMarre appealed the codes officers’ decisions, contending Paul Mitnik and his successor, current codes officer William Butler, misinterpreted China’s Land Use ordinance.

The structure in question looks like a small gray house set on concrete blocks, with a peaked roof, steps leading to the door and wheels under it. Different people testifying at the Board of Appeals hearing called it a Park Model recreational vehicle and said it has sewer and electrical connections and is registered as a motor vehicle.

Namer put the structure on the lot in early July 2018 without a permit. Previous owners had had a camper, grandfathered under town ordinance. The lot is not large enough to accommodate another permanent building under China’s shoreland regulations. According to the LaMarres’ written appeal, there are already five non-conforming permanent structures.

In July 2018, the LaMarres appealed to Mitnik, who first issued a notice of violation. After review, he issued a permit in August 2018, calling the structure a recreational vehicle and not a building.

The LaMarres did not appeal the permit within the required 30 days because, they said, they did not know it had been issued; repeated inquiries at the town office brought no reply.

In the spring of 2019 the LaMarres, finding the structure still there, contacted Butler. Butler orally reaffirmed the permit. The LaMarres appealed his action within 30 days, leading to the Sept. 26 Board of Appeals meeting.

Board of Appeals members had two questions to answer. The three lawyers present, Edmond Bearor and Stephen Wagner, of Rudman Winchell (Bangor), representing the LaMarres, and William Lee III, of O’Donnell Lee, P.A. (Waterville), representing the Namers, presented testimony on each issue, supplemented by their clients and by neighbor Jeffrey LaVerdiere.

The first question was whether the board had jurisdiction in the case. Bearor argued that although the LaMarres’ appeal of the 2018 permit was late, it was the town’s fault, not theirs; they did nothing wrong, and the delay did no harm to Namer, so the board should accept the belated appeal.

Lee replied that the LaMarres were at fault for not following up when their questions about the permit were not answered and thus lost their first chance to appeal. Butler’s oral confirmation of the permit in July 2019 did not start a new 30-day window. Therefore the appeal was invalid and the board should not hear it.

Two board members, Robert Fischer and Lisa Kane, voted they lacked jurisdiction, and two others, Michael Gee and Anthony Pileggi, voted they could act, forcing Chairman Spencer Aitel to break the tie, He sided with Gee and Pileggi and moved on to the second question, whether the permit was correctly issued.

Although complicated by issues like the trees Namer cut (with Mitnik’s approval, he said), setback from lot lines and alleged drainage changes, the main question was whether, under China’s ordinance, the structure was a recreational vehicle replacing a previous grandfathered camper, or whether it was a mobile home or some form of manufactured housing.

Subsidiary questions included whether its being in a different part of the lot from the previous camper was important; whether it could be moved; and whether, if it were a recreational vehicle, Namer could leave it on the lot year-round.

After a wide-ranging discussion, board members focused on whether Namer had a recreational vehicle that was legal because it replaced the grandfathered camper. They decided he did and voted 4-0, with Aitel abstaining, that the permit is valid and its issuance meets China ordinance definitions and requirements.

They therefore denied the LaMarres’ appeal Aitel promised a written decision within a week and reminded the LaMarres that they have 30 days to take the board to court if they so choose.

Vassalboro board denies Dodges’ administrative appeal

An annotated photo of the Dodge property and proposed structure, which was presented at the Board of Appeals hearing on Tuesday. (Annotated by Joshua Dodge)

by Eric W. Austin

Rena and Joshua Dodge were great friends with their neighbor, Richard Breton, until he decided to build a lighthouse on the hilltop behind their residence on Priest Hill Road in Vassalboro. On Tuesday, September 24, nearly 30 people crowded into the central meeting room at the Vassalboro town office for a hearing on the dispute before the Board of Appeals.

Thirteen years ago, the Dodges purchased five acres in a secluded area on Priest Hill Road. Breton owns a wide swath of land bordering the Dodges’ property on three sides. The Dodges were attracted to the location because of the property’s isolation and privacy, and with that in mind, built their new home well back from the road.

“It was secluded; it has privacy,” Joshua Dodge said, describing their motivations for purchasing the property.

Three years ago, the Dodges added a swimming pool behind the home for their family and two children, age 6 and 9, to enjoy, far away from prying eyes.

Both parties enjoyed a cordial relationship for more than a decade. At the hearing, Joshua Dodge referenced “many a dinner of pizza with [Breton] and the kids” at a picnic table in the back yard. “Good times there,” said Dodge.

But goodwill between the parties began to collapse a few months ago when Breton brought the Dodge family plans for a three-story structure he was thinking of building on the hill overlooking the backyard of their house.

“The whole reason we filed the administrative appeal,” Dodge said at the hearing, “is because we feel the location is a huge invasion of privacy.”

The planned building was described at the hearing as a three-story structure, approximately 35 feet high, with the third story entirely encased in glass windows and a balcony surrounding the upper floor (hence the term “lighthouse”), which would perch at the top of a small knoll on land owned by Breton but directly behind the Dodges’ residence.

The building would be rented out “three to four months” of the year, according to Breton, as it would be inaccessible during the snowy winter months.

At the hearing, Breton repeatedly insisted the purpose of the building was not to invade the privacy of the Dodge family. “I’m not building this thing to spy on them,” Breton said at one point. “I would die for their kids. They’re great people, great kids, but I’m building this thing to look over my big field.”

The initial building permit was issued by former Codes Enforcement Officer (CEO) Dick Dolby on August 8, but Dolby was not present at the hearing as he has recently taken a position with the Augusta Fire Marshal’s office. However, current acting CEO Paul Mitnik was on hand to answer regulatory questions.

“[Mr. Breton] obtained a septic permit today, and a plumbing permit last week,” Mitnik confirmed.

A number of possible regulatory issues were raised: Was the structure too close to an area designated as a wetland? Not according to the Town Shoreland Zoning map supplied by GIS which the town uses to identify wetlands. Does the structure need a fire access road? No, not for a rental property. Was the structure, as a rental property, considered a new business? No, rental properties are not considered a business as defined by town regulations.

The Vassalboro Board of Appeals, from left to right, Gary Coull, chairman Kathy Lees, John Reuthe and Leon Duff. (Photo by Eric W. Austin)

Appeals Board member John Reuthe stated, “Mr. Breton has followed everything he’s supposed to do. Whether it’s the right thing to do, that’s up to him. That’s the hard part. You can be right, but do you actually win the war?” To which Breton replied, “No, nobody wins the war in this.”

Appeals Board member Leon Duff, who had visited the location of the planned structure, added, “I looked at it, I walked it, I saw the [picnic] table on the crest…I have kinda come to the conclusion in my mind that, with all the acreage available, why would you build such a structure so close to another structure? I don’t understand that. It makes no logic to me. And I read the [submitted correspondence]…I’m kind of puzzled about why Mr. Breton has decided to go ahead and do it. There are so many options available, because of the land that is owned, and so I’m troubled with that.”

In the end, with no regulatory issues identified, the committee could not find a reason to deny Mr. Breton a permit for construction.

Appeals board chairman, Kathy Lees, summed up the meeting: “The appeals committee has been unable to negate the process [of construction] because we don’t have any standings to suggest that there was something inadvertent for malicious intent or [anyone was] misinformed.

“The opinion of many sounds like this is unattractive, this is going to deter from the natural space, and that you find it unattractive, unpleasant and it has become an emotional hardship due to failed efforts to communicate and come to common ground…But our committee cannot rule that this has become an issue of pure safety or something we can stand to offer a stop, a solid stop, on the project. But I’m afraid that the efforts for communication have fallen on deaf ears, and opinions will continue to fly.”

Contact the author at ericwaustin@gmail.com.

CORRECTION: The building permit for Breton’s proposed structure was issued on August 8, not August 18. The article has been updated.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the Dodges initially purchased their property from Mr. Breton. That was incorrect and has been removed from the article.

EDIT: The previous photo, created by the author of the article, has been replaced with the annotated photo presented at the hearing on Tuesday. The original photo used with the article can be seen below.

The original annotated photo of the site. Google maps photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kennebec retired educators support classrooms

The Kennebec Retired Educators Association (KREA) is awarding two $150 grants to two educators in Kennebec County for classroom use. The grants will supplement expenses for student-centered, inter-disciplinary projects and may be expended for materials used in the classroom, speakers’ fees, project development and related travel expenses, etc.

Grant criteria and applications have been disseminated to every principal in all elementary, middle, and high schools. The principals have made them available to the classroom teachers. Grant applications are to be submitted by October 30 to George Davis, committee chairperson. The winning applicants will be notified by December 1 and will receive the grant money at that time.

“Students remain our primary focus long after we leave our classrooms,” says George Davis of Skowhegan, chairperson of the Innovative Classroom Grant Committee and retired principal of Winslow High School.

KREA is comprised of retired educators from 60 schools in 31 cities and towns. In an effort to give back to the schools where they taught for many years, members of KREA also participate in the annual statewide “Day of Caring” volunteerism program that assists teachers every August in preparing for the opening day of school. Teachers in many Kennebec County schools have benefited from their assistance.

Further information may be obtained from George Davis at 207-612-2639.

Superintendent shares acronym meanings

Vassalboro Community School. (source: jmg.org)

At the Sept. 17 Vassalboro School Board meeting, Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer shared a list of more than 200 educational bureaucracy acronyms he obtained at a recent conference.

Some have become familiar, like ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Some seem confusing. HR might mean either House Resolution or Human Resources, and SFA stands for either student financial assistance or School Food Authority. FY is fiscal year; FFY is federal fiscal year; PFY is preceding fiscal year; SY is school year; there is no SFY for state fiscal year.

There are long acronyms, like AEFFA (Association of Educational Federal Finance Administrators), CACFP (Child and Adult Care Food Program) and FPLPE (Federal Perkins Loan Program Extension). There are a minority of two-letter ones, including MC for Montana Compact and PS, which does not mean an addition to a letter or an email ­– it means postsecondary.

Easy to pronounce acronyms include GAPS, the Grant Administration and Payment System; HELP, the U. S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; LEARN, Literacy for All, Results for the Nation; and PLOP, present level of performance.

China TIF members seek additional volunteers to serve

by Mary Grow

Five members of China’s Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Committee and Town Manager Dennis Heath shared information on several ongoing projects at the Sept. 23 committee meeting.

Chairman Frank Soares noted that although the committee has 10 people listed as members, at least two have resigned and others have been unable to attend a meeting in months. He plans to ask selectmen to delist the resigned and inactive members to make space for new people.

Any China resident interested in advising on spending up to half a million dollars a year is invited to contact Soares, Heath or the town office.

The half million is Heath’s estimate of sums spent and obligated for the current fiscal year, the bulk of it for the causeway project, the new bridge and future recreational improvements at the head of China Lake’s east basin. TIF money comes from taxes Central Maine Power Company pays on its north-south power line and its South China substation.

Committee members are waiting for detailed plans and state permits to continue the causeway project eastward from the new bridge. In 2017, China voters authorized spending up to $750,000 for the work; Heath doubts the approximately $150,000 left will be enough to finish it, and foresees asking for another appropriation.

Funds have been authorized to help the China Lake Association with projects to control run-off into China Lake. Construction subcommittee chairman Tom Michaud said Fire Road 35 is first on the list, with grant money and a donation from the Kennebec Water District supplementing TIF funds.

The committee’s revolving loan fund subcommittee and the full committee have recommended selectmen approve the first application for TIF revolving loan fund money to help a local business, from Buckshot Sports. Heath said selectmen are awaiting final documentation.

New and renewal applications for TIF funding are expected this fall. Heath said new state laws allow TIF money to support broadband service and all emergency services, not just fire departments.

Thurston Park Committee Chairman Jeannette Smith delivered her committee’s request for $22,700. Committee members intend to discuss the application at their late-October meeting, to be scheduled.

In the interim, they will hold an Oct. 14 (despite the holiday) workshop meeting to discuss requesting state and local approval to add funding categories and to reallocate funds among current categories.

Vassalboro Community School students in line for joint project with NASA

Vassalboro Community School. (source: jmg.org)

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members applauded when they heard at their Sept. 17 meeting that students at Vassalboro Community School (VCS) are in line for a joint project with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, commonly called NASA.

“Wicked awesome,” was Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer’s reaction.

Michelle Lake, instructional specialist for the now-dissolved Alternative Educational Structure (AOS) #92, and VCS science teacher Breanne Desmond reported that their application has been approved to try out for a Cubesat launch. A Cubesat is “a little tiny satellite” that carries experiments into earth orbit, Lake explained.

The next step is for NASA to help assemble a team of engineers and other experts who will work with students to build the solar-powered satellite. It will be tested by going up with a weather balloon and if it works, will hitch a ride into space.

Related: Superintendent shares acronym meanings

The timetable is indefinite, starting this fall. The project is supposed to take two years. Desmond expects to start with sixth-graders; the curriculum team hasn’t decided whether the second year will continue with the same students in seventh grade or hand over to the new sixth-graders.

The question the students will try to answer is whether the frequency or location of lightning strikes is changed by global warming. Sub-questions include whether the northeastern United States can expect more frequent or severe lightning strikes; if that answer is yes, what negative (like more forest fires) and positive (like more nitrogen fixing to improve soils) consequences might occur; whether energy could be captured from the lightning; and whether, if lightning is more frequent, housing codes should be adapted.

The other good-news report Sept. 17 was that changes to the school meals program are leading more students to eat school-provided breakfast or lunch or both. In addition to potential improvements in nutrition, more use of the meals program means an increased federal subsidy.

A third issue discussed was whether to allow a Vassalboro school bus to transport eight VCS students attending Happy Days Childcare and Learning Center on Augusta Road (Route 201), in Winslow, an estimated 70 yards from the Vassalboro town line. The usual policy is that Vassalboro buses operate only inside the town.

However, Pfeiffer said he gave Happy Days conditional approval, if the childcare manager will let its yard be used as a school bus turn-around. Driver Clayton Rice called the plan “doable,” Pfeiffer said. School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur said Happy Days employees’ vehicles are not in the way.

Board members approved the proposal without opposition, as long as the turnaround is plowed adequately and not blocked in any other way. Pfeiffer emphasized this action does not set a precedent for automatically allowing buses to cross the town boundary; anyone else wanting the same service needs to follow procedure, starting with a written application.

The next regular Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Oct. 15.

Unity College faculty earns $35,000 grant to monitor Lake Winnecook water quality using drones

The grant acquired by Unity College to study the eutrophication of Lake Winnecook, also known as Unity Pond, funds two full-time student positions throughout the summer. (contributed photo)

There are a number of ways to monitor the changes in a lake’s quality of water, such as gathering and testing water samples, using a Secchi disk to measure visibility, and even satellite data gathered over the course of several years. However, when Dr. James Killarney, Assistant Professor of Environmental Chemistry, saw an opportunity to apply for a Maine Space Grant Consortium Faculty Seed Research Grant, he began thinking of new ways to study the eutrophication of Lake Winnecook, also known as Unity Pond. Eutrophication, which is usually caused by runoff from the land, is when the body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients due to an abundance of plant life and algae.

The Maine Space Grant Consortium is part of a network funded by NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, also known as Space Grant.

“One of the NASA mission directorates was related to monitoring global environmental change with respect to water quality” said Dr. Killarney. “I had a conversation about the grant with Kevin Spigel, Professor of Geoscience, and because of some drone work he had recently started, he brought up we should do something with them. From there, the idea of using aerial imagery at a local scale to perform water quality analysis started to develop.”

Drs. Killarney and Spigel then reached out to Dr. Janis Balda, Professor of Sustainable Enterprise, to take the lead on the business development piece of the grant, and Dr. Kathleen Dunckel, Associate Professor of Forest Resources and Geographical Information Systems, who can overlay the images taken using GIS.

The grant also funds two full-time student positions throughout the summer. “Students get to go along for this ride,” said Dr. Killarney. “They’re going to see this process of science at a federally funded level, and they’re going to be able to decide if this is something they want to do with their life.”

“I want to congratulate Drs. Killarney, Spigel, Balda, and Dunckel on being awarded this grant,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. “Not only is it great to see our faculty engaged in research that will benefit the residents here in Unity, but this grant will also offer our students an invaluable experience conducting research with professionals. This is the embodiment of a Unity College education, getting hands-on experience in the field, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of this research.”

The Friends of Lake Winnecook also helped in funding the research, as they continue to work closely with the college to monitor the lake’s water quality.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Brian Levesque, the President of the Friends of Lake Winnecook. “It’s going to be huge in terms of monitoring and testing, and we think it’s going to be a huge step in the ongoing efforts to clean up the lake. Our end goal is to get Lake Winnecook off the impaired list of lakes in the state, and continue to work with Unity College and other agencies in a collaborative effort to do that.”

While the bulk of the research will be conducted throughout the summer, work with this grant is already underway and will be included in portions of the curriculum for the upcoming Fall semester.

CHINA: Planners to hear medical marijuana application

 

Location of proposed medical marijuana operation on Route 3 in China. (photo from Google maps streetview)

by Mary Grow

At their Sept. 24, 2019 meeting, China Planning Board members will continue discussion of Clifford Glinko’s application for a change of use for the South China building that formerly housed Mainely Trains and other businesses.

Glinko’s application says he intends to create two separate suites in the building. One will be for a medical marijuana facility, not open to the public, for “cultivation, manufacturing, and packaging for offsite delivery” of medical marijuana.” Planned hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The other suite will be for retail sale of “cannabis smoking accessories.” It will operate Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Planning Board meets at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 24 in the town office meeting room.

Related story: Planners again postpone action on marijuana facility application