Freeport council dispute resolved, but planning process is questioned
FREEPORT — Town Councilor Genie Beaulieu on Tuesday said she has reached an agreement with Councilor Joe Migliaccio and will not file a lawsuit in Superior Court to try to force him to comply with a Freedom of Access request she made last week.
But their disagreement has exposed what some councilors say are flaws in the town's planning process.
Beaulieu's FOA request came after an April 7 Town Council meeting on a zoning ordinance amendment that waived parking for a proposed movie theater in the Freeport Village Station parking garage. After the meeting, Migliaccio forwarded four resident e-mail messages to the council from people who did not agree with the decision to amend the zoning change. But he removed their names from the messages and refused to identify them to Beaulieu.
On Tuesday Migliaccio said he had fulfilled Beaulieu's request, and assured her that the other three messages did not come from constituents in her district.
Although the Freedom of Access debate has abated, transparency is still an issue and a few councilors still question the planning process – particularly since the $30 million Freeport Village Station project sits on prime downtown property owned by L.L. Bean.
Migliaccio and Councilor Eric Pandora opposed the ordinance amendment, which eliminates the cost of nearly 80 parking spaces for the cinema. Both councilors claimed it was unfair to businesses that are required to pay parking fees. They also said there was not enough information about the pending theater application, and did not feel comfortable changing the zoning ordinance without additional background information.
Pandora said he was against having to make a decision without all the necessary data, and said the council should have another vote on the parking waivers in the zoning ordinance.
"I didn't have what I needed to do my due diligence," he said. "At the very least I would have liked to have known what I was waiving and the value of it."
Migliaccio agreed with Pandora, and said he, too, would like more discussion around information councilors need before they are asked to make a decision. "You can't mix and match the process," he said.
Pandora also said that at the time of the council vote there was no application on file in the Planning Department.
Although Town Planner Donna Larson at the time said there was a formal application on file, the next day she said she made a mistake. She sent an e-mail to the councilors and Planning Board members the next day.
"When asked last night if the application form was complete and the fee paid, I misspoke," she said. "The application had not been signed, (developer) Al Yebba was in this morning and signed the application. We are holding an escrow account for that project for inspections and fees, the $385 was transferred from the escrow account to the the Planning Board/Project Review account."
"I made a mistake and it slipped through," Larson said on Tuesday. "It was not intentional."
Beaulieu, a previous member of the Planning Board, said Larson and the Planning Board members are very thorough. She said unlike Pandora, she does not have a problem with the process. She said Larson made a mistake and was honest about it.
"The Planning Board is very good at what they do and can make changes with or without an application," she said. "An application is one way a developer can make a request."
According to an April 13 memo from Town Attorney Geoffrey Hole, changes to the Zoning Ordinance can be made by the Planning Board, the Town Council the Project Review Board or an individual property owner. If the request is from a property owner the ordinance says that a request for an amendment cannot be referred to the Planning Board for public hearing or be considered an agenda item until the required fee has been paid.
"While I do not feel the confusion surrounding this amendment affected the validity of the Council approval, obviously the process could have gone more smoothly," Hole said. "I suggest that, in the future, the genesis of a proposed amendment be identified up front and as part of the record."
Town Manager Dale Olmstead said the Planning Board and Town Council expect to meet after the budget season to discuss the planning process.
"At that time we will have a chance to discuss what the council expects of the Planning Board," he said.