Cumberland credit union site plan OK'd; project moves forward despite lawsuit
CUMBERLAND — The Planning Board unanimously approved the site plan for a Main Street credit union Tuesday, allowing the project to move forward despite a pending lawsuit.
Atlantic Regional Federal Credit Union was issued a contract zone by the Town Council in March to build a branch on the former Chase Flower Shop property. Abutters Andrew Baca and Melissa Gattine, hoping to preserve their property rights, filed a lawsuit in April alleging the contract zone was inappropriate and inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan. Meanwhile, other neighbors collected petitions for a referendum on the contract zone. On June 9, the council's decision was overwhelmingly upheld by a public vote.
According to a July 21 letter from Atlantic Regional's attorneys to the attorney for Baca and Gattine, the credit union had been willing to agree to put the legislation on hold pending Planning Board approval of the site plan, but the town's attorneys had been unwilling. The matter was made mute Tuesday, when the site plan was approved.
Atlantic Regional hopes that its efforts to appease remaining abutter concerns will lead to Baca and Gattine dismissing the case without prejudice, meaning they agree to drop the case and not refile it later. The credit union met with the couple, as well as the northern abutter, Michael Tardiff, earlier to address those remaining concerns prior to the site plan public hearing.
Following those meetings, the credit union made further changes to its site plan, including reducing lighting, asking the town install a "No Parking Here to Corner" sign to protect Baca and Gattine's property, putting a small retaining wall between the Baca/Gattine property and the sidewalk to protect their property from pedestrians, allowing Tardiff veto power in choosing the fence that will buffer his property from the branch building, and minimizing noise from the ATM.
During the Planning Board's public hearing Tuesday, Gattine said she's been impressed by the credit union's willingness to be a good neighbor, and said her frustration had nothing to do with the credit union itself, so much as the town's process of approving the contract zone.
Baca and Gattine said that their remaining concerns mostly surround snow removal issues, and damage done to their home when snow is removed. Town Manager Bill Shane said that issue has nothing to do with the credit union, and is rather an issue that should be taken up with the town, since the town has a legal requirement to cover any damages caused by their equipment.
Neither Baca or Gattine said whether they'll drop the suit because of the credit union's concessions.
Concerns discussed by the Planning Board Tuesday focused mostly on traffic and the actual design on the building. Shane pointed out that the architectural drawings and traffic flow design were approved as part of the contract zone, so could not be modified by the board.
The Planning Board did attach several conditions to approval, including that the credit union evaluate traffic over three years to determine whether creating a left turn lane from Main Street to Farwell Avenue is necessary (and that it pay for that lane's construction if it is) and granting the public an easement to the two public gathering areas created on the property so citizens would retain access should anything happen to the credit union.
In the hopes of swaying the credit union's architectural plans, even though the board can no longer change them, the board also made one condition a "recommendation" that the credit union use natural building materials. The issue was raised by board member Bob Vail, who was concerned that fake clapboard siding was being used while real wood would make the building much more attractive and fit in better with the neighborhood.
"We're going to look at this building for the next 75 years," he said. "We can put a little extra effort into this building and make it look really great."
Regardless of the pending lawsuit, the credit union can now move forward with the project. According to Town Attorney Ken Cole, until a court decides otherwise, the Town Council's action remains legal.
According to Shane, the lawsuit has cost taxpayers $3,000 so far, and that number will grow as the suit continues. He said the town will not settle the suit, and has said before he is confident, based on the referendum results, that the town would prevail if Baca and Gattine choose to continue to sue the town.
Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.