Topsham paving company seeks move to residential area

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TOPSHAM — A rezoning request from Crooker Construction to relocate its paving plant to what is now a residential area could go to a special Town Meeting vote this fall.

But in order to reach that point, the company must hold additional meetings with neighbors concerned about the move, Planning Board members said at a workshop Tuesday. The panel would ultimately have to forward the change to the Board of Selectmen, which would then decide whether to send the matter to a Town Meeting warrant.

Residents packed into the meeting room at the Topsham Municipal Building Tuesday expressed continued concerns about having a plant near their neighborhood, such as a potential decline in real estate values.

Crooker operates a batch plant at 103 Lewiston Road (Route 196), as well as a rock quarry near the Androscoggin River, to the south of Pejepscot Village and River Road. The quarry is in an Industrial zone, which the company proposes to expand by 65 acres south of River Road. The company owns most of that land, which is adjacent to the quarry.

The rezoning would allow Crooker to build a hauling road between the quarry and plant, which the company proposes to place on property it owns between River Road and Route 196, according to Mike Abbott, an environmental coordinator with Crooker. The company looks to rezone about 100 acres in that area to Limited Industrial, which would facilitate the relocation of its plant, workshops and associated equipment from Lewiston Road.

Limited Industrial prohibits heavier industrial activities like quarrying, power plants, commercial recycling, auto salvage, and heavy manufacturing, Abbott noted.

The relocated operation would have a new entrance on Route 196 leading into the plant.

“We would construct a new haul road from the quarry to the plant, thereby eliminating the need to haul rock on River Road,” Abbott explained Tuesday. “This will result in a dramatic reduction in truck traffic in the River Road neighborhood.”

Crooker would modernize its plant operation with new equipment geared toward reducing dust and noise, and it would maintain trees and other vegetation to lessen the visual impact to neighbors and Route 196 motorists, Abbott said. Truck traffic would be removed from 103 Lewiston Road, which sits across from Topsham Fair Mall, allowing the property to be redeveloped, and for Crooker to remain in Topsham, he added.

The areas in question are now zoned Suburban Residential.

Crooker’s plan is a work in progress, dependent upon input from the Planning Board and Pejepscot Village and River Road residents, with which the company has met several times, Abbott said.

Noting the town’s ongoing effort to update its Comprehensive Plan, a document due to go before voters next May, Robin Brooks of Ivanhoe Drive said, “I don’t understand why this doesn’t get tabled until we finish (that plan), and figure out where we want our Industrial Zone.”

“This is going to change the character of our whole area, and not just the 500 feet abutters,” she added. “… It doesn’t seem proper for a business to come and ask to have residential property rezoned industrial; that’s a huge leap.”

In light of those and other audience concerns, Planning Board Chairman Don Spann advised Abbott that more meetings with neighbors were necessary.

“I do think … there needs to be more discussion and more meetings with the community, and more notification, and get it further out there” to more residents, he said.

Spann noted to the audience that it would be town voters – not the Planning Board – that would decide whether any rezoning occurs.

“We’re going through a process, which we’ve been asked to do, and that’s what we’ll do,” he added. “But the bottom line is, it’s still ultimately decided by you at Town Meeting.”

Crooker looks to meet with the Planning Board in July and August, submit final maps and language by Aug. 30, go before the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen for respective public hearings Sept. 18 and Oct. 4, and bring the matter to a Town Meeting vote Oct. 18. All dates are tentative.

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

Crooker Construction’s proposed rezoning of land it largely owns in Topsham between the Androscoggin River, bottom left, and Route 196. The company wants to relocate its paving plant to the area if it’s rezoned to allow industrial uses.

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.