Questions, concerns lead Cumberland planners to table Route 100 housing proposal

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CUMBERLAND — Citing several issues that need clarification, the Planning Board on Tuesday unanimously tabled a request for preliminary subdivision approval for a 20-apartment housing complex on U.S. Route 100.

Questions were also raised about the business viability of the applicant, Grun Development of Portland, as well as past performance of the project consultant.

Grun seeks to build a three-phase multi-use project at the Allen Farm Country Store property at 197 Gray Road. The second phase includes building five, four-unit multiplexes.

The two-bedroom, market-rate units would sit back from the road and border Tammy Lane, a private way. A 9,000-square-foot retail building, which constitutes the third phase, would sit closer to U.S. Route 100.

About 1 acre of open space would separate the residential units from the commercial enterprises.

The parcel is roughly 800 feet north of the intersection of U.S. Route 100 with Skillin and Blackstrap roads. Town Planner Carla Nixon’s Oct. 13 memo to the Planning Board noted Police Chief Charles Rumsey’s concerns about increased traffic and the risk of more collisions at the intersection.

Grun Development is scheduled to return, if ready, to the Planning Board Nov. 15 for site plan and final subdivision approvals.

Concerns about developer

The Planning Board on Tuesday also unanimously supported extension of an earlier approval it had given to a nearly 13,000-square-foot manufacturing building – the first in Grun’s proposed three-phase project.

The investors in a shoe factory eyed for that space have sought further study into technology related to the operation, which will result in delaying construction for Phase I, James Schmidt, a consultant with Grun, said Tuesday.

The proposed extension raised questions from members of the audience Tuesday night.

Rhonda Small of Maurice Way, whose husband’s 198 Gray Road plumbing and heating shop abuts the Grun project, asked the board if a letter of intent for financing to purchase the land was available. Grun’s purchase and sale agreement, already extended to Oct. 28, requires further extension.

The town looks for a developer’s “ability to construct the public improvement portion of the site,” Nixon responded. “That number is worked out between the town manager and the applicant’s engineer, and that performance guarantee is provided to the town … prior to a pre-construction conference.”

That conference is held after the Planning Board has approved the project and the conditions of approval are met.

Nixon said she did not believe such a conference had been held for Phase I.

“We didn’t get the letter of credit, but it was not needed, because they weren’t ready to break ground,” she said. “They showed enough financial capacity for the board to approve the project.”

Having searched public records on the state website, Small said she “was a little disturbed” about Schmidt’s background; he’s an agent with Grun who works with Marlene Eaton, owner of the company and the project’s developer and real estate broker.

Small mentioned a property Schmidt purchased in February at 247 Gray Road, “and within a short amount of time, had a lien slapped on him by a builder.”

The lien was paid and discharged in June, Small added, also noting that KBS Builders filed a writ of execution against Schmidt in March for $65,000.

Every corporation doing business in Maine must file an annual report, but Schmidt had not done so for Grun, Small said. She referred to a June letter in which the state said the company had been “administratively dissolved” for failing to file a 2016 annual report and pay an $85 filing fee. According to Small, a limited liability company, once dissolved, cannot do business in Maine.

“Are we still able to do business, and conduct this tonight?” Small asked the board.

Schmidt, in response to Small’s statements, noted that he does not own Grun Development, but is a consultant for the company.

“Regardless of all the other issues that relate to me personally, they have nothing to do with Grun,” he said.

Referring to those issues, Schmidt said, “Contractors sometimes have disputes. I had one with a carpenter on 247 Gray Road.”

Planning Board Chairman Steve Moriarty then directed Schmidt to focus on Grun, asking if the company was still licensed to do business in Maine. Schmidt affirmed that it is, saying that the annual report was filed around late September, and the late penalty paid.

“I have never checked to see if any developer’s LLC is licensed by the state,” Nixon said, noting that the town’s concern is whether a project would be “left high and dry,” leaving the town with “no funds to restore a site to the way it was before, or restore a project.”

“While these are concerns … they are somewhat outside of the board’s purview,” project engineer Al Palmer said, adding that his firm, Gorrill-Palmer, would make sure it was clear that Grun was a company in good standing.

A James F. Schmidt is reported in a 2010 U.S. District Court docket to have been convicted in 2006 “on multiple theft-related counts relating to financial transactions stemming from Schmidt’s involvement in the purchase and renovation of a building” in Calais.

Schmidt declined to answer when asked during a break in the meeting to confirm whether he was that person.

Town Councilor Ron Copp, who owns land abutting the Allen property, noted that the property has been in foreclosure since December 2015.

Dennis Allen owes less than $20,000 in back taxes, according to Town Manager Bill Shane. After 18 months, a lien goes to foreclosure, notices of which went out about two weeks ago, Shane said, adding that if the taxes are not paid, the town will take possession of the property in December, Shane said.

The manager noted that there was little reason not to grant the Phase 1 extension, pointing out that “this is dead on arrival at our pre-construction meeting” if items like the letter of credit are not available by then.

“This is the project we’ve been the cheerleader for, and we really want to see happen,” Shane said. “… If it didn’t happen, everything that’s there today would be there tomorrow.”

Moving forward

The area to be developed includes the nearly 6,700-square-foot Allen Farm convenience store, along with a residence, both of which would be removed.

Town officials were unsure whether the store remains in operation. The business’ main number was not in service as of Tuesday night.

The entrance to the Phase 2 multiplexes was originally proposed to be off Tammy Lane, to offer a more residential feel, according to Nixon.

But after residents at a June Planning Board meeting said they had concerns about increased traffic, the narrowness of the road, and existing site distance, the proposal was tabled and the plan was amended to make U.S. Route 100 the access point.

Tammy Lane, a private way, is to be part of Allen’s land sale to Grun. The board seeks more details on that part of the proposed development, opting to table the Phase 2 discussion until additional information on that and other aspects of the proposal, such as its stormwater drainage plan, are available.

The project follows three housing developments completed on Route 100 a few years ago: two between Mill and Wilson road, at the former Castlerock commercial subdivision, one across the street at Morrison’s Hill, and Emerald Commons, farther north on U.S. Route 100, toward the Gray line.

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

Multiplex housing, along with retail and manufacturing buildings, are proposed during three phases at 197 Gray Road (U.S. Route 100) in Cumberland, as shown in plans provided by Gorrill-Palmer engineering firm.

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.