The Limington Free Press
The People of Limington's On-Line Newspaper for News and Opinion
August 3, 2000     Volume 1 Number 14     Index

Are Ex Parte Communications Destroying the Credibility of the Planning Board?
Also in this issue:
Planning Board ignores zoning ordinance
Resident's concerns brushed aside on gravel pit
Paint Ball Industry Struggles to Overcome Rambo Image
Short Takes:
    Low Income Housing Application submitted to Planning Board
    Four more cell towers?
    Local Forum Closed
Letters to the Editor

In the last issue:
Little Useful Information Presented at Low-Income Housing Meeting
Short Takes:
    Revamping Rescue
    Cell Tower Constructed
    Business Tax Collection
    Linking the .net to the .org

Jump to the August 20th edition

Are Ex Parte Communications Destroying the Credibility of the Planning Board?

by Dick Jarrett

    Two recent applications before the Planning Board raise serious questions about members who are being influenced outside of the public process.  There is no question that this outside pressure is being allowed to happen.  The big question is just how widespread is the practice and what is going to be done about it.

    In many ways the Planning Board must act like a jury when it evaluates the evidence before it.  Like a jury, Planning Board members are forbidden to engage conversations outside of a board meeting about an application, conversations that could influence a member's vote or opinion.  Such conversations are know as "ex parte communications".  It does not matter if the conversation is with a member of the public, another board member, or the applicant.  Any of these private conversations pervert the public process and interfere with the rights of the applicant or of the public.

    Being a Planning Board member requires discipline not to discuss active applications.  It is human nature to want to talk about these topics of community interest.  Unfortunately, innocent conversations can rapidly turn into lobbying sessions by an applicant or other interested party.  In the following two stories, many questions are raised as to how the board arrived at the decisions it did.  In some cases, applicants were actively witnessed discussing an application outside of an official meeting with a board member.  When outside conversations do occur, either the public, the applicant, or both are short-changed.  The problem remains: How can the Board reverse the effects of the conservations that have already illegally occurred?

    This issue of the Limington Free Press examines two Planning Board applications in detail.  In both cases, serious questions of impropriety concerning board conduct are raised.

Back to Top

Planning Board ignores zoning ordinance and local rules;
reverses last month's road slope decision

Planning Board action is seen as a boon for developers but will hurt taxpayers, raises safety concerns for fire and rescue personnel, and weakens protection of the sensitive mountain environment.

by Dick Jarrett

    In a decision that may have long range repercussions, the Planning Board, with almost no discussion, voted to reverse their decision from the June 22nd meeting.

    Last year, Michael Hanson applied for a permit to build a residence in the Town's mountainous Resource Conservation zone.  For many reasons, all roads in town are required to meet certain maximum slope requirements.  With the steep slopes that are found in the mountain areas, particular care must be taken to ensure that fire, rescue, and snow plows will be able to service such homes.  Erosion and the cost of road maintenance are also a major concern with steep roads.  The zoning ordinance does define standards that must be met for such roads.  Under special circumstances, the zoning Board of Appeals has the authority to vary some of the zoning standards such as lot width.  However, everyone agrees, including the Town Lawyer, that the Appeals Board does not have the authority to grant a variance on the slope of a road.  Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Appeals Board did last December.

    Recognizing that the Appeals Board had no authority to grant a road slope variance, the Planning Board voted on June 22nd to approve the application on the condition that the road slope requirements in the zoning ordinance still be met.  That should have been the end of the story.  But for some as yet unexplained reason, the Limington taxpayers were asked to foot the bill for a review by the Town Lawyer of the Planning Board decision.  Normally, if there is a question on the legality of a potential decision, the Town Lawyer is consulted before a decision is made.  Acting on partial information, the Town Lawyer stated that although it was illegal for the Board of Appeals to grant such a variance, since no one contested the variance within 30 days, the variance had to stand.

    However, one reason that no one contested the decision was that the variance was not recorded at the registry of deeds or even given to the Planning Board within thirty days as is required by law.  In fact, under state law, variances that are not recorded within a prescribed time period are null and void.  This particular variance was not delivered to the Planning Board until after more than six months had passed.

    Armed with the lawyer's letter, the Planning Board was set to reconsider their decision at the next board meeting on July 13th.  However, it was pointed out to the board at that meeting that the variance was still not legal not only because it was granted without authority but also because it was never recorded.  Chairwoman Wendy Walker said she would get back to the Town Lawyer so that the issue could be resolved.

    All of this seemed to be forgotten at the July 27th meeting.  Chairwoman Wendy Walker said that no further opinions were solicited from the Town Lawyer, and paying no heed to the new facts, that the board must follow the first letter.  She also confirmed that the board has never seen a copy of the recorded variance.  With next to no discussion, the board voted to reconsider their decision and to grant the permit with no conditions.  That is, grant the permit allowing road slopes up to 15% even though the zoning ordinance does not allow road slopes to exceed 8% except for short segments of 10%.

    Many troubling questions remain unanswered with this process.  Planning Board members are of course forbidden to engage in "ex parte communications".  Board members must not discuss the application among themselves or with others except in a public meeting.  But somehow between meetings the board went from needing more information from the Town Lawyer to deciding that they did not need any more information.  And apparently all of the board members reached this same decision independently as there was absolutely no discussion about no longer needing the lawyer's clarification.  This conclusion occurred only moments after the board voted to approve the previous meeting's minutes, minutes that reiterated the importance of contacting the Town Lawyer on this issue.

    Further troubling comments were made by Chairwoman Walker about desires of the Selectmen.  The Planning Board is purposely kept independent from the Selectmen's Office so that there can exist checks and balances.  Comments were made to indicate that much of this decision was the result of pressure from the Selectmen.  One is led to infer that discussions about the application are taking place illegally outside of the public board meeting.

    The Board also ignored their own rules when reconsidering this decision.  The Rules adopted by the Board clearly state that a decision can only be reconsidered at the next meeting and never later.  This decision was reconsidered after two meetings.  If the board wished to reconsider the decision without talking to the lawyer, why didn't they just reconsider the decision at the last meeting when it would have been legal to do so?

    Finally, it is all of the Limington's taxpayers who will suffer from this decision.  If the decision is left standing, then someday this private non-conforming road (which has now been declared "legal") may be accepted as a town road and will therefore become the responsibility of the taxpayers.  And even if it is not accepted as a town road, the existence of this road may be the weak link to other roads in the sensitive mountain areas, a weak link that will never have to meet the real town standards.  Such a weak link could pose a serious safety hazard to our fire and rescue volunteers.  And if this decision is challenged as it should be, it will be the taxpayers who will end up paying for the Town Lawyer to defend an indefensible position.

Back to Top

Resident's concerns brushed aside and approval all but guaranteed for Dearborn Brothers Gravel Pit.

by Dick Jarrett

    Townspeople watched in dismay at the last Planning Board meeting as one by one all of their concerns were either ignored or brushed aside by the development friendly Planning Board.  Although residents had supplied many pages of documented evidence listing problems with the pit, this evidence was rejected and instead the verbal comments of the developer were accepted without question.  In a particular galling and hypocritical example, the board had previously stated that the Town's comprehensive plan "is only advisory" as the Board discounted pages of written citations from the plan as supplied by the residents.  However, when the board apparently discovered on their own that the comprehensive plan mentioned that new entrances onto highways should be discouraged, this was taken as a binding requirement that the pit entrance should enter a residential street rather than on Route 117.  Of course the comprehensive plan actually covers both cases.  Nevertheless, this discovery by the Board was used to "trump" the actual zoning ordinance requirement that commercial and industrial operations shall avoid generating traffic on residential streets.

    The Limington taxpayers are also going to be asked to pay up so that the pit operator can work more efficiently.  It is within the Board's authority to require that the operator pay for the entire cost of upgrading the road since the application should be rejected if the pit will have an adverse effect upon local roads.  Instead, the Planning Board wants to broker a deal where the pit operator will only have to supply the gravel for improving the road while the taxpayers will be asked to buy culverts and pay for the paving of 1300 feet of roadway.  However, the selectmen were not born yesterday.  In the regular selectmen's meeting held today, the selectmen felt that if Dearborn Brothers Construction wanted to improve the road, they could, but that there was no money budgeted for the town to pay for paving.  Furthermore, this is a Planning Board issue and not a selectmen's issue.  The board will most likely approve the application whether or not the road is actually going to be fixed up.  One of the provisions of the proposed residence-friendly amendments to the zoning ordinance would require that such out of town operators pay the cost of upgrading the road, rather than placing this burden on the local taxpayers.

    And take a close look at the letter from Richard Baker of the DEP "supporting" the applicant.  While the DEP acknowledges that extraction operations may be able to take place under state rules within 100 feet of the pond in certain limited areas, the DEP actually supports the townspeople's claims that the North and South ends of the pond are important wildlife zones and should be protected.  It is interesting to note that the area that the DEP says is not an important wildlife area is the same area that has already been ruined by a previous gravel extraction operation. In fact 95% of the letter is supporting what the townspeople have been saying all along.  Nevertheless, a few sentences in this letter are apparently being used as the final evidence that the developer can do anything he wants anywhere around the pond.  The Board seems to be accepting the applicant's interpretation of the letter rather than reading it for themselves.

    How far can the taxpayers and the Board really trust this developer to do what he says he will do?  To bolster their position in town, Dearborn Brothers Construction said during the July 13th meeting that "Up on Route 117, we have had a pit there for five, six years. ... I bet you people didn't even know we were there."  This would lead a reasonable person to believe that Dearborn Brothers Construction actually already owned and ran a pit in Limington.  In fact, Dearborn Brothers Construction has just used the pit owned by Dayton Sand and Gravel.  There is a big difference between the responsibility of owning a pit and just hauling a few loads out of somebody else's property.  When a citizen at the selectmen's meeting confronted them on this and said "You have been telling people at the planning board meetings ... that that's your pit", Dearborn Brothers Construction snapped back "No we haven't.  We never said that."  You be the judge: Did Dearborn Brothers Construction mislead the Board and the public with their statements?

    Testimony from Dennis Doughty may have thrown a monkey wrench in at least one area.  There is a local requirement that gravel extraction operations must keep back 150 feet from any property boundary.  He pointed out that the applicant does not pay taxes on the ground under the Boyd Pond and in fact the state owns the bottom land of all great ponds.  If this is the case, this would mean that the property boundary is the high water mark and that Limington's local setback requirement would prevent any gravel extraction within 150 feet of Boyd Pond even if the state would normally allow extraction within 100 feet of the pond under the shoreland zoning rules.

    And would the developer actually try to lobby a Planning Board member outside of an official meeting?  Immediately following the official public meeting between a Planning Board member, the Selectmen, and Dearborn Brothers Construction earlier today, Dearborn Brothers Construction brazenly participated in an "ex parte meeting" on the steps of the Limington Municipal Complex.  Among other things Ronnie Dearborn assured the Planning Board member that although they indeed did not own the land under the pond, that shoreland zoning would take precedence and allow gravel extraction within 100 feet of the shore.  Was the board member swayed?  We will find out at the next meeting if the most stringent requirement is followed as required by law or if the ex parte communication influenced the board member to ignore our local laws.

Back to Top

Paint Ball Industry Struggles to Overcome Rambo Image

by Dick Jarrett

Weekly Paintball Games
Participants prepare for the next game
    With two new recreational paintball facilities currently before the Limington Planning Board, one would wonder if Limington is going to become the Paint Ball Capital of Southern Maine.  The first application is by Kirt Cochran of Rogue Paintball in Standish for a 400 acre playing area on land leased from Verne Blake off of Route 25 and the Town Farm Road (right behind the new cell-tower).  The second application is by Stephen Emma of Fire Storm Paintball, Inc. for a 14 acre facility on the North Road at the site of the old boy's camp.  This is currently part of a lot that goes all the way to Horne Pone.  The exact limits, however, will not be known until a boundary survey is done on this lot.

    Paintballs themselves are gelatin-shelled balls about the same size as a marble.  Inside the shell is a water-based paint sometimes mixed with mineral and/or fish oil.  A player is considered hit if he or she is splattered with any paint spots larger than a quarter.  The paintball games themselves have evolved as the paintball equipment has gotten more sophisticated.  Carbon dioxide canisters, some of which are similar to those used in an air rifle, are used to propel the balls at speeds up to and exceeding 200 MPH.  Early paint ball guns were single shot mechanisms that required the operator to pause between each shot.  Modern equipment boasts semi-automatic or fully automatic firing of thousands of these paintballs.  As with any activity, tools of the trade come in all price ranges.  While a person can be equipped for less than $200, some computer controlled automatic rifles can cost as much as $1,600.

Eliminated Tree
This tree was eliminated when it tried to sneak up on an enemy encampment.
    As the industry recognized the negative aspects of guns and killing, an effort was initiated to desensitize the language.  Paintball "guns" became known as paintball "markers".  And a player who is shot is no longer "killed"; he or she is "eliminated" from the round.  Promoted as a family sport, players must be at least ten years old to participate and must listen to a safety presentation before joining in.

    The operation I observed, Rogue Paintball behind the CarQuest store in Standish, paid strict attention to safety standards.  All players, referees, and visitors were required to wear full face masks which covered the eyes, mouth, and ears.  All players were required to test and adjust their equipment to verify that the paint balls were reduced to traveling at less than 300 feet per second (204 MPH).  Eliminated players and participants in the parking area had to place a visible plug in the barrel of their marker to prevent an accidental discharge.  And a referee class that I sat in on was teaching lessons that any parent would be proud to have their children learn: how to take a non-confrontational stance and not to publicly humiliate a player who may have broken the rules.  These lessons evidently were absorbed by the referees as one player was heard to yell out as he left the playing area "dead man walking".  After the referee quickly and discreetly took the player aside, the player continued off of the course yelling "eliminated player" with his plugged marker held high.

    However, no matter what terminology is used, guns or markers, killed or eliminated, there is no getting around the fact that these are basically war games.  The event may be called "capture the flag" just as it was in grammar school, but the use of rapid fire projectiles make these events quite a bit different from fourth grade recess and even from the paintball games of just a few years ago.  Just as the machine gun totally changed real warfare at the turn of the century, rapid-fire automatic paintball markers bring a full-fledged combat mentality to the game.  Most players were outfitted in combat fatigues and in fact I nearly tripped over a hidden player as I moved around near the sidelines of the course.  The attire of most of the players attests to the military mentality.  While there may be valuable lessons to learn about teamwork and leadership, camouflaging the terminology cannot hide that fact that these games are still simply simulated combat.

Back to Top

Short Takes:

by Dick Jarrett

Low Income Housing Application submitted to Planning Board

    In an uneventful but well-attended presentation, York Cumberland Housing officially launched their application before the Planning Board last Thursday.  The board has announced a site walk on August 15th at 6 PM.  York Cumberland Housing is scheduled to return on Thursday August 24th when public input will be gathered by the board during the first official Public Hearing on the project.

    In related news, State Senator Jim Libby says that he was misled into thinking that there was local public support for this project by the letter submitted by former Planning Board Chairman Ralph Libby.  He promises to work with the citizens to fight the project if opposition can be proven to him.  An unofficial petition is now circulating to show that the citizens of Limington do not support this project.  Of course at any time, opinions can be addressed directly to Senator Libby.

Four more cell towers?

    After having erected Limington's first cell tower in the Burning Rose Subdivision on Route 25, Michael York has submitted applications for four more cell towers in the Town of Limington.  The proposed towers are to be on land of Verne or Nadine Blake at the following locations:

Jo Joy Road (R1 Lot 13)
South Road (R10 Lot 48)
River Road (R14 Lot 67)
Skip Road (R16 Lot 30) (off of the Hanscomb School Road)

Local Forum Closed -
Limington Issues Dominate Maine Forum

    One of the interesting facets with the Limington Public Forum was that some people would assume that they knew who everybody was.  Then, rather than addressing the issues, some people would post personal attacks in an effort to intimidate or even silence certain people.  Feeling very uncomfortable censoring posts, I had hoped that the users would police themselves and the potential problems would take care of themselves.  When some particularly mean attacks were posted against some local people and businesses, I decided that I should at least temporarily close the Forum until a better system could be worked out.  Thank you to all that sent in suggestions.  However, an interesting solution seems to be working itself out.  So that people would still have a place to express their views in the meantime, I posted a link to the Maine Forum which is run by the Portland Press Herald.

    Since then, people from Limington have been posting regularly.  In fact, looking at that forum you would think that Limington is one of the most politically active towns in Maine!  Hint to users: scroll down to the bottom of the list of topics as the most recent topics are placed at the bottom rather than the top as was done in the Limington Public Forum.  Since people from all over Maine are sharing solutions that have worked in their towns, Limington is reaping the advantage of the expertise from all around the state.  And since people from all over Maine are commenting on Limington issues, the local attack artists no longer have inside information that they can use to attack the people posting.

    Finally, has no control over this forum so that censorship is not even possible.  The Portland Press Herald also has a large enough staff that they can police the forum for inappropriate posts.  Therefore, for the meantime, please visit the Maine Forum and we can see how this system works.

Back to Top

Letters to the Editor

Freedom of Speech

Hello Sir,

    I too tried to inform the public in the 4 SAD #6 towns and 2 SAD 57 towns that make up the Saco River Cable, Adelphia Cable, loop about some issues I saw that were not being discussed publicly by the elected officials involved.  I wrote 3 articles, one of which was also a report to the Board of Selectmen in March of 1998, that were also printed in the Journal Tribune.  Links to these editorials are enclosed for you to read and if you so chose you may add links to them.  I was elected, and served 3 yrs., 1997, 98, and 99 on the Buxton Budget Committee and asked to be appointed to the Buxton Cable Advisory/Communications Committee and served during the same 3 year period.  The 6 towns mentioned above were in the process of rewriting the current cable contract and I wanted to be informed.

    I have just been elected, June 2000, to a 1 year term on the Buxton Planning Board.

    We as a town passed legislation at this past June's Annual Town Meeting allowing up to a 20 unit "Low Income Housing" development to be built.  We have as of yet received any applications but I expect whom ever asked that these articles be placed on the ballot will be coming in before long.  See articles # 92, 93, 94 and 95 in Buxton's June 1998 1999 Annual Report.

    In closing I have found the biggest problem in town governance is that most voters are just to self involved to be bothered with collecting all the facts on issues.  Couple that with elected representatives who want to push their agendas and do their best to quiet any one who tries to put out all the facts on issues its no wonder most people don't bother to vote or get involved.

William P. Anthony
Single Full Time Dad
Small Business Owner
1st Yr. Buxton Planning Board

If you have comments on the stories in the Limington Free Press or other issues of interest to the people of Limington, please feel free to send them to for possible publication in this paper.  Please include your name, phone number, and email address for verification.

Back to Top

Would you like to be notified by email whenever a new story appears in the Limington Free Press?
If so, email your request to  All addresses are kept confidential.

View the Index of the Limington Free Press

Please note that is not the official website of the Government of the Town of Limington.