The Standish Zoning Board of Appeals has delayed its decision on whether the town will allow St. Joseph’s College to expand its lakeside campus.
After more than five hours listening to supporters and opponents of the expansion at a public hearing Monday night, the five-member board tabled its decision until Monday, March 6 on whether the college can build five new dorms and three parking lots.
The board also introduced a new member, Jeff Cutler. Cutler declined to participate in the meeting, saying he was uncomfortable making a decision when he did not have enough information on the issue.
“I’m going to respectfully recuse myself and let the board go ahead with these matters,” said Cutler.
There was also some question Monday night as to whether board member Louis Dudek should have voted in the initial public hearing regarding the college expansion on Jan. 22 since he had not been present for a prior public hearing. Dudek and the board defended his participation, saying that he watched the hearings on video and that he had gone through all the materials presented to his fellow board members.
Before the board voted, town attorney Sally Daggett addressed the provisions concerning last month’s tie-vote, which led to Monday’s reconsideration. When there is no provision in the town’s bylaws, as was the case with the planning board’s 2-2 vote on Jan. 22, she said it is customary to consult Roberts Rules of Order. Section 44 states that “on a tie-vote a motion requiring a majority vote on adoption is a denial.” This effectively squelched the claim made by the college that the original vote was equivalent to a “no decision” vote.
David Perkins, an attorney representing residents of Westerlea Way, asked the board to stick with its original 2-2 denial.
“The right thing to do is to stick with what you did last time…so that a new plan can be presented,” he said.
After listening to the lawyers’ comments, board member Gregory Coombs motioned to reconsider, and member Thomas Leen seconded the motion, saying he felt “there was some information that came in late in the game.” Chairman Bruce Smith agreed. “I’m in favor of at least opening” it up to more discussion, he said.
In the interest of time, the board decided to hear speakers for five minutes at a time. Several people from either side of the issue spoke, including engineers and professors with the college and many residents.
James Morris, who lives just across from the college’s baseball field, kicked off resident remarks by urging neighbors to work with the college to create an open dialogue.
“I do insist that a middle-ground can be met,” said Morris.
Other residents remained opposed to the expansion project, which would increase the college’s enrollment by 330 students. Residents of Westerlea Way and Hearthside Road say they stand to be most affected by the expansion, as some abutters will live less than 200 feet from college parking areas. Residents argue they could see a decrease in property values as a result of the expansion.
But Leland Bussel, a real estate appraiser hired by the college, said there was no basis for the claim that residents stand to lose money on their homes.
“If there is a reduction, it’s due to market conditions, not traffic,” Bussel said.
Chief concerns among residents have been light pollution, noise and vehicle traffic. But Highland Road resident Janet Murphy raised an environmental concern with sewage. The college would need to install a new leech field system just 250 feet from the basin of Sebago Lake. “It’s time to say no to the proposed expansion,” said Murphy.
A provision to the college’s original plan stirred up some objection from residents, as civil engineer Jim Seymour presented a proposal to increase the width of Westerlea Way and close it off as a cul-de-sac, which would allow abutters free access to their property. Upon questioning by board members, Seymour said this change was the only one made after the public hearings.
At times, the atmosphere in the room was tense, with several snickers coming from the crowd. Bill Yates, a resident of Whites Bridge Road and professor at the college, commented on the outbursts saying, “I guess I’m just saddened by the venom that I’ve heard flowing through the audience as I sit out here,” he said.
Residents made closing remarks, urging board members to consider the plight of residents who do not want their lifestyles to change. Resident Dana Lampron said consultants and lawyers hired by the college are on a “time-table” whereas residents will have to live with the consequences of a vote for the school. “There’s a lot of people here with their lives invested in this neighborhood,” he said.
Board members declined to comment while the matter is pending.