Media Archive

Sebec Village Shops, Reading Room permits in limbo

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 35, August 06, 2003

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

SEBEC The planning board needs more information before granting permits to Sebec Village Shops (SVS) and the adjacent Reading Room, allowing additional parking and a wrap-around driveway on the two properties.

The permit also would act as an "after-the-fact" permit for development of the SVS properly, which the town has found in violation of its original permit, approved in March 2002.

Greg Cunningham, attorney, and Donald Becker, engineer with Civil Engineering Service of Brewer, represented SVS properly owner Forbes B. Smiley III of Sebec and Martha's Vineyard. Sebec Village Associates was represented by resident Betty Ellis.

After more than five hours of discussion at the July 30 meeting, the planning board agreed that more information is needed prior to the granting of either permit.

Specifically, the board determined that a survey may be required of the Reading Room property, after a survey on a neighboring properly was presented by Cunningham that disputes a survey filed at the Registry of Deeds.

The board also requested permission to take measurements of the SVS building to help determine the "original footprint" of the property prior to renovations, and the vegetative lot coverage. While the planning hoard has estimated that coverage at 35 percent, SVS has estimated 39 to 40 percent.

Code Enforcement Officer Bill Murphy last spring determined that SVS was in violation of the town's shoreland zoning ordinance.Murphy found that the development exceeded the allowable unvegetated lot coverage. The property already was not in compliance with the maximum 20 percent non-vegetative cover allowed in the ordinance, but Murphy argued that the developers made the property less compliant.

The town and SVS since have worked on a consent agreement, but none has been finalized to date.

Cunningham described the SVS permit as an "after-the-fact permit," and he said it should be "pro forma." Although he said he was not representing the Sebec Village Associates, which oversees the Reading Room property. Cunningham explained that the non-profit organization has agreed to allow Sebec Village Shop use of sixparking spaces to be developed on the property as well as a portion of the driveway on their property, and that an easement deed is pending the outcome of the municipal permit process.

There remained some dispute regarding the actual lot coverage of SVS property when Smiley assumed ownership in November 2001. Already non-conforming, Cunningham argued that the grandfathering of the property dated back to the town's adoption of the shoreland zoning ordinance in 1991, He presented aerial photos of the property in 1991. At that time, he said, the property had a wrap-around porch and driveway, and a lower percentage of vegetative cover.

Planning board member Walt Emmons questioned the analysis of the vegetative lot coverage on the property in November 2001. due to the lime of the year and severe drought weather conditions.

Becker of CES said that site surveyors were on the property over the following winter and that while there was snow on the ground, "we were pretty confident in the number."

There also were concerns about a survey presented to the planning board that shows the Reading Room property as nearly 22,000 square feet. Emmons pointed out that the survey, which was not filed in the Registry of Deeds, depicted roughly 30 percent more square-footage than another survey -of-record found in the registry by planning board members, putting the lot size at roughly 15,000 square feet.

Emmons told selectmen Monday night that workshops to discuss the two applications will be held throughout the next month.

Mary Downs, also a planning board member, said that the board wants the situation to be resolved, and that it is willing to work with all parties. She said that the board plans to contact Smiley to request permission to visit his property and take measurements, and that any input he provides to the process would be welcomed.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.