Vassalboro planners approve re-use of country store
by Mary Grow
At their Feb. 7 meeting, Vassalboro Planning Board members approved reuse of the East Vassalboro Country Store; continued discussion of the proposed solar ordinance; postponed two applications on their agenda because applicants were not present; and rejected an unusual request to pre-approve a new business.
Tim and Heather Dutton applied in January to reopen the store at the East Vassalboro four corners, initially as a pizza and sandwich shop (see the Jan. 12 issue of The Town Line, p. 3). Board members asked for additional information, which they received before the Feb. 7 meeting.
Parking was a major issue. Dutton’s revised plan shows three parallel parking spaces on Main Street (Route 32) in front of the store and head-in parking off Bog Road behind the store.
Board members found the proposal meets all town ordinance criteria and approved it unanimously and without conditions.
They spent almost an hour rediscussing the draft solar ordinance, intended to become a subsection of Vassalboro’s Site Review Ordinance.
Board member Douglas Phillips had reorganized suggestions from earlier discussions and incorporated the town attorney’s comments – “she thought it was pretty good,” he said.
After discussion of the time-line to the June town meeting (the complete warrant must be ready by Thursday, April 27, and the written-ballot voting that will include local elections and a vote on the ordinance is scheduled for Tuesday, June 13), board members scheduled a public hearing on the draft ordinance for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28.
Board chairman Virginia Brackett said the draft will be on the town website as soon as possible.
Several members of the Main Street Maine coalition, the group formed after a commercial solar project was proposed for an area between Route 32 (Main Street) and Outlet Stream north of Duratherm Window Company, asked when board members would heed their concerns.
Board members pointed out they had made several additions to the ordinance that the group had suggested. They will take testimony at the public hearing and can make changes that they consider appropriate after the hearing, Brackett said.
She and Phillips reminded the group that the ordinance, if approved by voters, will govern all future commercial solar developments in town; it is not site-specific. Testimony at the hearing about specific characteristics of the Route 32 area will be irrelevant.
North Vassalboro resident Ray Breton questioned whether requirements, like buffering around a solar array, will be enforced. The solar farm on Route 32 in East Vassalboro is supposed to be screened from the road by trees, he said.
Owner Bernie Welch said he planted trees; “it takes a while for them to grow.”
Main Street Maine members repeated their complaints to select board members at the end of that board’s Feb. 9 meeting. Jessica Murray, an environmental consultant and Vassalboro resident, talked again about wetlands protection, setbacks and other issues in the ordinance. Breton told select board members, “I feel like we’re going nowhere with the planning board.”
Select board chairman Barbara Redmond reminded the group that Vassalboro has no zoning ordinance to limit placement of commercial developments and recommended they bring their concerns to the Feb. 28 public hearing.
Miller offered them copies of the current draft of the ordinance.
The applications planning board members postponed on Feb. 7 were from James Ruby to open an auto inspection and light repair business in his garage; and from SunVest Solar to extend its permit for a solar farm on Webber Pond Road, and, codes officer Bob Geaghan said, to reduce power output.
Board members found that SunVest had received a first six-months’ extension in September 2022, because Central Maine Power Company had not acted on its application to connect to the grid.
Board members were not sure if the moratorium on solar projects Vassalboro voters approved in November 2022 allows them to do anything for SunVest. Phillips and Dan Bradstreet recommended seeking legal advice.
If the board can consider SunVest’s request, Brackett and Paul Mitnik want a written application with more information.
The final request at the Feb. 7 meeting was from a realtor with a client who wants to buy a Route 3 property, if he is guaranteed he can open a fencing company there. He also wants to add a mobile home – there is one on the lot already – with a well and septic system.
Brackett said the board cannot guarantee approval without reviewing an application. She advised the realtor to have his client provide as much detail as possible about his plans for a pre-application conference, which can be on the planning board’s March 7 agenda if the client is ready in time.
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