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Despite referendum, residents continue lawsuit to block Cumberland credit union

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Despite referendum, residents continue lawsuit to block Cumberland credit union

CUMBERLAND — Despite a landslide referendum vote approving a contract zone for a credit union on Main Street, residents Andrew Baca and Melissa Gattine are continuing their lawsuit to reverse the contract zone.

Baca and Gattine own a home directly abutting the property, which
was the former site of the Chase Flower Shop, on Main Street.  The
couple initiated the lawsuit in early April with a complaint submitted on their behalf by attorney Patricia McAllister.

According to court documents filed at Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland, the
plaintiffs claim the contract zone approved violates the town's Comprehensive Plan, is not
consistent with existing uses and does not serve a public purpose or
benefit. They asked the court to void the zone, grant them "further relief as the Court deems appropriate" and order the town to pay their attorney's fees and costs.

After a citizen-initiated petition for the referendum vote was approved, both sides agreed to a stay, pending the result of the June 9 vote. That vote was 1,533 to 363 in the town's favor.

"I am extremely disappointed that this is moving forward," Town Manager Bill Shane said. In a June 19 e-mail to councilors, Shane said "I have instructed the Town Attorney to be prepared to defend the suit and have told him in no way will we agree to stop the Planning Board process pending the decision of the (lawsuit)."

"How can anyone be surprised with this?" McAllister said Tuesday. "The legal question wasn't dependent on the town vote. The  contract zone doesn't conform with current zoning and the Comprehensive Plan. I think it is a valid, legal claim."

Roger Sirois, chief executive officer of Atlantic Regional Federal Credit Union, said the Brunswick-based financial institution is willing to wait it out.

"We'll be patient and allow the legal process to run its course. Our approach is to listen, to be a good neighbor," Sirois said Wednesday morning. "But, we are listening to what the Cumberland residents want (too). And based on the overwhelming vote on June 9, the Cumberland residents want a credit union on Main Street, and specifically, Atlantic Regional."

He also said he was told the credit union proposal is on the July 21 Planning Board agenda.

"I can really see both sides," Councilor Michael Perfetti, the only councilor to vote against the contract zone, said Tuesday. "I lament the lawsuit, but they're well within their rights to do that. But I'm pretty confident the town will prevail."

"Right now we're just waiting for the court to come out with scheduling dates. But the courts are pretty backlogged. The next step is briefing," McAllister said.

Shane speculated the process could play out in the court for months, even years, and be very costly for the town.

"But we will absolutely continue to move forward," he said.

Heather Gunther can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 115 or hgunther@theforecaster.net.