Petitions force referendum on contract zone
CUMBERLAND — Two residents have filed a lawsuit against the town seeking repeal of the contract zone allowing a credit union to replace the Chase Flower Shop on Main Street.
The suit was filed at about the same time petitions with 649 signatures were turned in to the town seeking a referendum to overturn the decision. Enough signatures were verified by the town, so a public hearing will be held April 27 to set an election date. Town officials have previously suggested the referendum will be added to the June 9 ballot.
The lawsuit has been stayed pending the results of the election.
In their lawsuit, Andrew Baca and Melissa Gattine, the southern abutters of the approved project at the intersection of Main Street and Farwell Avenue, claim the town approved the contract zone “in the face of significant opposition” to the proposal. The council voted 6-1 to approve the contract zone.
That approval, Baca and Gattine claim, violated town ordinances because the new use is not consistent with existing uses in the underlying zone, and is inconsistent with the existing Comprehensive Plan. They also claim the credit union would not provide a public purpose or benefit.
Baca and Gattine are represented by Patricia McAllister, an attorney at the same firm where resident Dan Nuzzi is a partner. Nuzzi was a vocal opponent to the contract zone throughout the town’s discussions and led the movement to gather signatures for a referendum.
At Monday’s Town Council meeting, several councilors noted their disappointment in being sued despite the upcoming referendum, which will allow the public to decide whether or not to allow the credit union. While many neighbors have been opposed to the project, councilors have said that many other citizens are in favor of bringing the business and its tax dollars to the town.
“It’s a sad, sad day to hear we’re being sued by a resident of our own community,” Councilor Jeff Porter said. “We’ve done everything possible to help (citizens) with the process. It’s time to let the people decide” through public vote.
Council Chairman George Turner echoed those comments, and suggested that the suit “is more of a tactic than anything else.” He, too, hoped that the referendum would allow the public to weigh in, “letting the chips fall where they may.”
Turner added that when a council vote “comes down that lopsided (6-1), there’s more than a modicum of credibility to that decision.”
In that 6-1 vote, only Councilor Michael Perfetti was opposed. Perfetti said at the time his opposition was not to the business itself going onto Main Street, but rather a reflection of his feelings toward contract zones. Spot zoning, he said, is poor public policy, and could reshape Main Street and other parts of Cumberland without long-term vision.
Perfetti has suggested a committee be formed to recommend long-term planning for the town center, but the matter was tabled by the council until this month and has not been discussed.
Councilor Stephen Moriarty abstained from all discussion of the contract zone because various parties involved are clients of his law firm.
Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.