North Yarmouth OKs 1st contract zone for housing development

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NORTH YARMOUTH — By a show of hands at a special Town Meeting Aug. 4, residents voted 80-49 in favor of a contract zoning agreement for a proposed housing project on Walnut Hill Road.

While many people spoke in support of developer Jim Guidi’s project, others said they were concerned because the proposed lots are significantly smaller than what is allowed in that part of town. Opponents also said the agreement lacks a significant public benefit in return for the contract zone.

Guidi plans to build the seven-lot Stone Post housing subdivision across the street from Stone’s Cafe & Bakery. The lots would range in size from about 15,000 to nearly 32,000 square feet, according to Code Enforcement Officer Ryan Keith.

Because the minimum lot size in the Village Center/Groundwater Protection overlay district is 1 acre (43,560 square feet), and all but one of the lots would be about half that size, he needs a contract zone to develop the project.

Guidi already has an agreement in place to purchase the 4-acre property, which is owned by the estate of Donald Smith.

The Planning Board in June recommended that selectmen reject the contract zone application, calling for the single lots to be at least 20,000 square feet, except for the common lot of approximately 15,000 square foot that would be shared by the subdivision and house a community septic system.

The panel also recommended that an additional public benefit be required besides creating of more density in the center of town: open space or affordable housing, for example.

But the Board of Selectmen on July 5 approved the application, ruling that a public benefit requirement is up to selectmen and is not a requirement.

North Yarmouth’s land use ordinance states that when considering “a request for a change in zoning classification for a particular property or group of properties under this section, the Board of Selectmen may impose certain conditions and restrictions on the use of the property where it finds that such conditions and restrictions are necessary to protect the public health, safety, and general welfare and when the Board of Selectmen seek to advance desired land use objectives consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, and where such uses provide a public purpose or benefit.”

Since the Town Charter mandates that contract zones be approved by voters, the final decision was made at the special Town Meeting.

Guidi, the first person to come before the town for a contract zone agreement, noted that the development would be in the Village Center, where the town’s Comprehensive Plan has called for growth, and is therefore consistent with that plan.

All the homes – including his own – would be built with septic pre-treatment tanks and use public water, Guidi said.

“I want affordable housing,” he said. “If anybody in this room can tell me how I can develop a piece of property and make it affordable without increasing density, I’m all ears.”

Responding to concerns about smaller lot sizes, he noted that many residents, Planning Board members included, had not walked the site with him. He also pointed out that Woodside Drive, which he called one of the “more popular streets” in Cumberland, has lots the same size or smaller than what he is proposing.

In its recommendation against the zone, Planning Board Chairwoman Katryn Gabrielson said, the board asked selectmen “to consider negotiating some kind of a public benefit with the developer,” such as trails through the property, public open space, or aesthetic improvements along the road.

The Planning Board had also hoped that the lot sizes would be reconsidered, particularly because of the project’s location in the town’s groundwater protection overlay district, Gabrielson said.

Christen Graham, of Blue Moon Drive, noted that regardless of the small lots that exist in town, “I’m still adhering to the … existing law of the 2004 (Comprehensive) Plan. I think that asking for double the allowance in a cluster is one thing, and this is even asking for more than double the allowance.”

If nearby towns allow it, she said, “live there, instead of here, in North Yarmouth. … This is an unreasonable use of the parcel. The development is great; it should be on a different parcel somewhere else.”

Graham said he was also concerned about the precedent that approving the contract zone could set.

“‘Contract’ means that the town can enter into a contract with a developer,” said Diane Morrison of Brown Dog Drive. “They can negotiate, and there was no negotiation here, and that’s what disturbs me the most. We could have negotiated with Jim to do certain things, and none of that happened.”

But Mark Verrill, of Walnut Hill Road, praised the project, adding that it means “a hell of a lot” to him that Guidi plans to live there.

“I don’t really like half-acre lots, but I understand, in living here, that’s the only way the center of town is really going to grow and prosper,” he said.

Verrill used the Purple House eatery at the corner of U.S. Route 9 and Route 115 as one example of a successful half-acre lot, and cautioned against turning away potential developers.

Selectman Alex Carr said granting the contract zone request would not set a precedent, noting that “every contract zone is a contract zone unto itself.”

He noted, though, that the town has been “derelict in its duty” to update its 2004 Comprehensive Plan, and to also update the ordinances to reflect current technology.

“This advanced wastewater treatment plant will protect the aquifer, and it gives us the opportunity to reduce lot size,” Carr said.

Former Selectman Jim Moulton said Guidi “jumped through every hoop, and every requirement” put to him by the town, adding that if the town does not want to have a contract zoning option, “we ought to vote it out, or first of all change the process.”

With the contract zone approved, Gabrielson said the Planning Board would discuss the project again later this month.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

North Yarmouth’s first contract zone will allow developer Jim Guidi to proceed with plans for a new housing project on Walnut Hill Road.

The seven-lot Stone Post housing subdivision in North Yarmouth would have lots ranging from about 15,000 square feet to nearly 32,000 square feet.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.
  • Watchful Eye

    Well I guess it had to happen. Enough citizens showed up at the meeting to vote this thing in. Two years of wrangling ,well, I guess, we just needed to vote something in. I still have a nagging question about any of this and that is..why is it we any development in this town? Why is their such a push to do this?

    The Smith’s have a right to sell their land. That’s for sure. The questions we all need to ask is what kind of pressure can the aquifer handle. Private wells or public water, the water comes from wells in North Yarmouth. My well has dropped 35 feet from when we first moved here and I am downrange from the development. We have had a number of houses built around us and the water quality has changed. Have to filter our water now.

    The other concern is taxes. Don’t ever let any one tell you that taxes will go down. They will go up. Part of the reason is the pressure to be exerted on the school. Most of you don’t know that the district has had to engineer the construction, or should I say squeeze, two more classrooms into Mabel I. elementary due to about 60 more students attending classes this next year. You have to know that a campus enlargement is being proposed. This will increase taxes.

    Emergency services are hard pressed now to perform adequately. This is due to lack of responders and a definite lack of leadership with foresight. A proposal will no doubt show up for more money to fund an ever burgeoning budget. The town is not getting the services they are paying for now. I can’t imagine how it will be in the future.

    • s80t6

      I honestly had little interest in following this proposal until I happened to attend the final planning board meeting where this was discussed. Although Mr. Guidi was visibly agitated by the sluggish and lengthy approval process, the planning board and the select board were all guilty in dragging this out through their inability to say no. There is absolutely no extenuating circumstance for this project that would allow for contract zoning. Mr. Guidi could place his seven hobbit hutches on a number of properties that are zoned for it, but he was determined to squeeze them in here.

      Some of the comments at both the planning board and town meetings that were in favor of this bordered on the absurd. One commenter said that “change is good” and sat down without explaining herself. I heard things about what a nice restaurant Louie’s is, and what a great guy Mr. Guidi is. Are these valid reasons for circumventing the rules? There’s a reason why residents and others that know the town like it, and I believe it’s the peaceful quiet nature of North Yarmouth. I don’t know why others want it to become Yarmouth or Falmouth and make comparisons. What’s the next town they want to emulate? Westbrook? Gorham? Be careful what you wish for, folks. Remember Chicago, Boston, NY and other cities weren’t always concrete and steel.

      Our laws require that contract zoning be approved by a show of hands at a town meeting. What a quaint and outdated system for a game changer like this. It really should be a ballot issue decided by as many residents of the town as possible, and not by a group of cronies, friends, and others with no concept of the consequences that have an hour or two to waste.

  • Watchful Eye

    I agree with s80t6 but have to add a bit more. I have said it before and here I am saying it again. We have absolutely no competent leadership in this town. The past two years have shown this. The hiring of the fired Poland town manager who exacerbated a lawsuit with the help of Palmer and Nappi along with the”fire chief”who lied about circumstances that lead to the town paying out over $70,000 in attorneys fees. Selectmen who coerced their way to get what they wanted with regards to the 2 development questions. None of the selectmen have a spine or the integrity when it comes to doing what is right for the people of this town. Proven gutless.

    Said this before also. The taxpayers in this town deserve what they get. Well, some of them anyway. The so called leaders of this town have carte blanche when it comes to accountability. Cowards when it comes to dealing with the misappropriations of the town manager. This place is in a mess and ultimately the blame can be found in the electorate. Quit putting people in places of authority that have an agenda that is counter productive. We DO NOT have to develop this town. We are a pass through community. We are not a destination. We are a quiet bedroom community to Portland. Have they added something to the town water because I do not see the need to plant hundreds of houses. Don’t drink the Kool Aid. It comes with a real bad after taste.