After false start, Planning Board approves Yarmouth subdivision

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YARMOUTH — Amid procedural confusion last week, the Planning Board approved construction of 38 single-family homes and a 32-unit multi-family building on about 58 acres off Hillside Drive.

The board voted twice to approve the McKearney Village subdivision plan in a meeting on July 27 because members failed to understand what they were approving the first time.

The first vote, 4-2, passed with board members Ben Mather and Dale Cormier opposed and newcomer Jim MacLeod abstaining. The vote approved the plan with full connectivity and the extension of Sycamore Drive from the Applewood Farm neighborhood to McKearney Village. 

When Chairman Stacy Stevens realized the plan was approved with full connectivity, the board took a brief recess, held a private discussion, reconvened, voted to rescind its earlier vote and amended the plan.

The amendment – to not connect and extend Sycamore Drive from the Applewood Farm neighborhood to McKearney Village – was approved 6-1, with Mather still opposed.

The McKearney Village application was submitted to the Planning Board in January 2010. Some neighbors, citing density, traffic and safety concerns, and environmental issues as potential problems, have opposed it since the beginning.

With the extension of Sycamore Drive, the plan promoted connectivity and traffic and pedestrian access throughout neighborhoods that are now cul-de-sacs or dead ends.

But residents were concerned that connecting the road would increase the tendency for vehicles to cut through Harrison Middle School and Yarmouth High School to avoid traffic or more quickly access West Elm Street, Main Street and Portland Street.

The Comprehensive Plan and Vanessa Farr, Yarmouth’s director of planning and development, support street connectivity as a way to reduce vehicle use, energy consumption and carbon emissions; diffuse traffic impact in one area; and allow police, fire and emergency rescue services more than a single point of access.

A compromise was eventually reached to appease some of the neighbors who have opposed the proposal.

The amendment approved on July 27 allows limited emergency vehicle and bicycle and pedestrian access between McKearney Village and Sycamore Drive via a 14-foot paved road. There will be a mechanical sliding gate with electronic keypad lock that can be accessed by emergency workers and public safety. 

William Conway, project manager for Sebego Technics in Westbrook, said he was comfortable with the alternative. But members of the public, while appreciative of the compromise, still expressed concerns.

Suzanne Jones of Sycamore Drive commended the board for trying to balance the needs of the town, developers, property owners, and the public, but said the process has been flawed from the beginning of the application.

“You continue to hear many concerns forwarded by citizens with regard to the density of this project, the impact on the environment, the safety of our citizens, the impact on neighborhoods in terms of privacy and property values,” she said. “There have been many troubling and rather questionable procedural missteps revealed, whether on the surface or below the surface.”

She said abutters have not been properly notified of meetings, public comment has been limited and town staff does not agree on the connection and density of the subdivision.

“How can anything good come from so many procedural and content conflicts? A flawed process is likely to result in only one thing: litigation. Litigation is bad for everyone, certainly not in the best interest of the town,” Jones said.

In a letter addressed to the town manager, town planner, superintendent of schools and the chairmen of the School Board and Town Council, resident Maryellen Thoma expressed concern that the high-density development will adversely impact the health and safety of elementary and middle school students who travel on Hillside to get to school.

“The existing traffic and road problems on Hillside are well known by those of us who use this stretch of road. This proposed high density project compounds them,” she wrote.

Town Engineer Dan Jellis said he expects final construction plans from the developer soon. He said the Town Council will discuss the recommendation to close the rear access driveway to the middle school to further quell cut-through traffic.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.

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