Monday, July 24, 2006

Small Town News - Cumberland Farms: Citizen Action

As you might imagine, local denizens of our fair town were not happy with the way the Planning & Zoning hearing was conducted. People started talking outside the Town Hall afterwards and a meeting was set up at someone’s house for an evening later that week. A dozen or so folks got together and formed a citizens’ group to decide what could be done next. Included in this group were Sean, the other architect, the lawyer, local business men and women, townspeople, and myself.

It was decided that we needed a letter to the P&Z to protest the early closing of the town hearing in an attempt to reopen the hearing and we would attach a petition to that letter. So, a petition was prepared that pretty much said that we were not happy with the way the town center was being planned as far as the gas station went and wanted the hearing to be reopened. The petition was signed by 350 folks over a weekend in a town with only 3,100 people. This letter and petition was submitted to the P&Z and the first selectman.

It was also decided that since the next meeting was to decide whether the project would be approved or not, we should be prepared for approval and prepare an appeal. Appeals could be filed with the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) or the state supreme court. The ZBA is free, except for time and preparation while the court is costly. We figured that it would cost as least $10,000. Names of lawyers were discussed. It was decided that both avenues would be taken.

Also, since the hearing was closed, nothing could be legally discussed with a member of the P&Z. The only option was to go to the first selectman, Joe.

Joe, a democrat, has been in office for 17 years. He is a very devoted selectman and loves the town. A true blue collar man, he can be seen plowing the streets, working as a constable, as well as applying for grants for funding. As a matter of fact, he was the second person to respond to my house when I had a seizure once. I have been very pro Joe ever since we moved here. So it was very hard for me to walk into his office to give him a piece of my mind.

This is what I told him while I looked him straight in the eye:

I have worked in a big corporation for 22 years and some of it was as a safety officer. I will tell you that if my company was looking at installing three times more gasoline adjacent to an elementary school and across from a public meeting area, I would tell them not to fool with it. It is just not safe. I don’t care what fire suppression systems they have. The zoning regulations say so. No increase of a nonconforming use within 200 feet of a school or place of public assembly. If I was this town’s safety officer, that is what I would tell you. Don’t fool with it. Have you asked your fire department about it? What do they think? It is just not safe. Not one more drop of gas there. One more drop and I remember; I will blame you.

He is a politician and dealt with it well. But I could see the look in his eyes. He heard me. But, damn him he wasn’t going to do anything about it. He told me that he wasn’t on the P&Z (which is bullshit because as first selectman he is on all such commissions) and his hands were tied. But that the P&Z lawyer was going to be there to advise them on this matter and we would both see that. He kept saying that he worried that if we drove Cumberland Farms away, who would come to our town?

I asked him to have faith in the town and others would come. My remark fell on deaf ears. I asked that we find out if the regulations would be followed at least. He said that he would be there and we would see that they were.

Other members of our group came to talk to Joe also. No one enjoyed success at all.

I had this terrible feeling that we were going to end up paying lawyers a shit load of money just to enforce the goddamn zoning regulations. Ack! Frustration!

Next: The P&Z votes and the surprise ending (?).


Ryan said...

sounds like u got your hands full. funny is no matter how much we bitch they do what they want anyway. keep it up tho never give up!

Sue said...

We won't Ryan. Just can't let our historic downtown go to hell in a hand basket. Thanks for the comment!

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