Selectmen Refuse to Follow Zoning OrdinanceSelectmen Refuse to Follow Zoning Ordinance
Also in this issue:
Appeals Board Rules on Permit Fee
In the last issue:
Bogus Maps Mislead Planning Board
Promised Wildlife Study Turns Out Not to Exist
Planning Board uses excuse to approve road through Resource Conservation Zone
Printing Error by the DEP aids Developer
Deer yard requirements ignored in Paintball Approval
Appeals Board Strikes Again
Citizen Petition Submitted to Regulate Cell Towers
Editorial: High Impact / Low Revenue Projects Coming to Limington
Jump to the October 23rd edition
Selectmen will not allow the voters the opportunity to change the regulations on gravel pits and cell towers. The selectmen are specifically ignoring the section of the Limington Zoning Ordinance that allows citizens the right to modify the regulations by petition.
All stories by Dick Jarrett
In an action that is starting to become routine for selectpersons Kathy Maddocks, Herbert Ramsdell, and Barry Gammon, the selectpersons are again discarding citizen initiated petitions and are refusing to let the voters decide on the issues that are important to the townspeople. Two petitions, each with a hundred or more validated signatures, were presented to the selectpersons and Planning Board earlier this year. The first petition, "Protection of Residential Properties from Mineral Extraction Industry Amendments to the Limington Zoning Ordinance" was submitted back in June and would regulate gravel pits. The second petition, "Personal Wireless Service Facilities and Towers Ordinance" was presented in August and would regulate the height and placement of new cell towers. These are not the first citizen initiated petitions that the selectmen have thrown in the trash. In the recent past, citizens requested a recount of the town hall vote as well as a reconsideration of that issue. In that election, ten percent of the ballots were either blank or spoiled. These and another gravel pit petition were all discarded by these same three selectpersons.
It seems that the selectpersons might want to reread their oaths of office in which they pledged to uphold the Constitution of the State of Maine (Article I Section 15). This document holds very dear the right of the citizens to petition the government. An independent attorney has stated that the selectmen do not have discretionary authority in this matter and must honor the petition provisions of Limington Zoning Ordinance.
"Selectmen know best" attitude
It is apparent that Kathy Maddocks, Herbert Ramsdell, and Barry Gammon feel that only three people should make the decisions that legally all of the voters have the right to make. In essence, they are voting for all of the residents who no longer have a say in Town affairs. And their refusal to place the proposals on the ballot is a direct slap in the face to every citizen who took the time to read and sign the petitions.
In a similar situation earlier this year, John Egan of the Maine State Housing Authority asked the town to comment on the proposed low income housing project, specifically requesting such public input as local landlord reaction. Instead of holding public hearings or even informing the townspeople about this project, the selectpersons kept the project a secret and decided for us that they would handle it all. Without any public comment or input from the Limington townspeople, the project received funding. Now all that is left for the citizens is the ability to comment on the technical aspects as the Planning Board irons out the final details of the project.
Objection, your honor
Although the official reasons for their refusal to follow the law are still in the mail, the three selectpersons did give some insight into their logic at their regular meeting on Thursday night. Foremost was their objection to the retroactivity clause. Both citizen proposals state that, if approved by the voters, the proposals would become effective as of the date that the proposals were passed into the town with all of the signatures. Such a clause is common in amendments to discourage applicants from filing to get their applications in "under the wire" before the vote. Neither proposal should have come as a surprise. Variations of the gravel pit proposal have been on the Planning Board docket for the past three years and the Planning Board was specifically asked to start working on a cell tower proposal last May. But the selectperson's objections seem disingenuous: When the Planning Board made its recommendation for gravel pit changes two years ago, these same three selectpersons tacked on a similar retroactivity clause. Why should they object to the citizen proposals when they themselves did the same thing? Incidentally, the Maine Supreme Court has upheld the legality of retroactivity clauses.
The selectpersons also did not like the idea that all gravel pits would have to have their permits renewed once by the Planning Board and then annually by the CEO. "This (proposal) isn't fair" whined selectman Ramsdell last Thursday. Again, their actions speak more loudly than their words since the selectpersons, without any authorization from the voters at all, recently implemented their own gravel ordinance that stated in part "Effective April 1, 2000 - Gravel pit permits are renewable on an annual basis". It appears that there is a double standard here: If the selectpersons propose something it is okay, but if the citizens propose something, "It is not in the best interest of the Town". Should it not be the voters who determine what is in their own best interest?
Two years ago, the selectpersons refused to place a slightly different citizen-initiated gravel pit petition on the ballot and instead urged the citizens and Planning Board to work together on drafting a new proposal. The only problem was that the selectpersons neglected to inform the full Planning Board of this plan until almost a year later. The latest proposal took into consideration some of the Planning Board and selectperson's objections but now the three selectmen have decided that different sections of the proposal are objectionable.
Once again, the selectpersons are hiding behind their office and the town attorney who was consulted on the same day their decision was made and the second to last day before ballots needed to be finalized for the November elections. It appears that the only way for the townspeople to force the selectmen to follow the law is to take the selectpersons to court. And then the citizens own tax money would be used to fight against the themselves. Is it any wonder the town spent over twenty-eight thousand dollars last year on legal fees?. Does it make sense that the citizen's tax money should be used to defend the out of town interests while the residents get the shaft?
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Appeals Board Rules on Permit Fee
Permit Fees, Town Hall Officials Related, and Standing.
In a issue that lasted nearly three hours, the Limington Appeals Board ruled Tuesday night that applicant John Foss was charged $50 too much on his building permit for a house in his two-acre three-lot subdivision on Doles Ridge Road. In saving the applicant this $50, the town racked up these three hours as well as additional preparation and consultation time for Town Attorney Jim Haddow. It appears that the lawyers were the only real winners in this appeal in that the filing fee was $60 and Mr. Foss was also represented by counsel.
Also discussed was the suitability of allowing board member Bob Axelson to participate in the deliberations and vote. The selectmen were party to the appeal and Mr. Axelson is the brother-in-law of one of the selectmen. Mr. Foss's lawyer explained that all members who are related (by blood or marriage) "to the sixth degree" or less must disqualify themselves. A parent-child relationship is one degree. A brother-sister relationship and a grandchild-grandparent relationship are both two degrees because each of these go through the parents. First cousins would be related by four degrees. When it was pointed out that at least three members of the board would then be disqualified because they were related to the selectpersons, the applicant waived the requirement.
In a separate action on the same night, the board ruled that appellants Sherwood and Lorraine Libby did not have standing to bring their appeal where the Planning Board did not act as an independent body and where an unrecorded variance was accepted as valid. That appeal will now have to go to Superior Court where standing will be examined further. If standing is established, the appeal would then return back down to the Appeals Board for further action. This Appeals Board decision will delay the process for six months to a year. This is not the first time that the board has deliberated on standing. A year ago when Nancy Bozenhart appealed the Municipal Complex decision, the board finally agreed that she had standing after she explained that she had planted flowers in front of the old town hall.
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