DAMARISCOTTA — A planning board review on Oct. 16 of a potential $3 to $4 million development at 435 Main Street started off with some board members asking others to recuse themselves.

A number of residents circulated a petition calling for a moratorium on all commercial development that would be retroactive to June 7 and would last until Dec. 4. That petition got the requisite number of signatures, leading to a potential referendum vote on Nov. 7. As of press deadline, a second public hearing on the subject that could change the status of the referendum, had not yet occurred.

Damariscotta also recently created a committee to examine form-based codes and develop possible amendments to land use ordinances. Circulators of the petition said they believed a moratorium would allow the committee more time.

The petition was circulated by board member Shari Sage, and alternate member Jenny Begin, causing tension on the planning board.

Board member Wilder Hunt immediately made a motion that the two should recuse themselves from all matters regarding the development of 435 Main St.

“By circulating the petition, it takes away from your ability to be impartial,” he said. “I don’t believe that you can be a private citizen and a planning board member at the same time.”

Some residents in attendance also called for their recusal, because they did not immediately state a potential conflict of interest by circulating the petition.

Sage defended herself, saying that the petition was circulated before the 435 Main Street project was even submitted, and that she’s never had any issues with being unbiased.

“I have been on the board since July of 2014. I challenge anybody to show me where any of my deductions, my reasonings, my votes, wasn’t based on either a rule or an ordinance or documentation or input,” said Sage, who challenged the public to find any indication of bias.

“What judgment call or what statement I have made, that was either not per an ordinance or per documentation?”

Board member Adam Maltese supported Sage, adding that the moratorium did not target the 435 Main Street project, and that planning board members have rights to opinions. “We all weren’t giving up our First Amendment rights when we joined this board,” he said.

Planning Board Chair Jonathan Eaton agreed that planning board members are entitled to have opinions. He asked both members directly whether they could be impartial on the project, and both affirmed they’d make unbiased decisions.

“Neither one have said anything bad in particular about this particular project,” said Eaton, but Eaton also chastised Begin and Sage for their roles in circulating the petition, and for not bringing their involvement to the board’s attention sooner.

In the end, members Hunt and Neil Genthner both voted to have Begin and Sage recuse themselves, with Eaton and Maltese allowing them to stay on the board. Due to the tie, Hunt’s recusal request failed, and both members were allowed to continue having input.

The development, proposed by Commercials Properties Inc. CEO Daniel Catlin, would create a 22,000-square-foot building for retail; a 5,525-square-foot building for smaller retail spaces, and a 2,700-square-foot bank at the location.

The proposal of the development comes at an awkward time for the town, as a recent development farther north on Main Street led to some controversy. The construction of a Dollar General and a Sherwin-Williams received multiple waivers from the planning board, something to which many residents objected.

Following the initial motion, the planning board heard more information about the 435 Main Street project, and reviewed requirements for a complete application line-by-line to ensure the developers were meeting all the standards.

Previous complaints from the public about the appearance of one of the buildings were taken seriously by the developers, with the 5,525-square-foot building getting a complete redesign received favorably by the planning board.

After a review, it became clear that the town still needs a written waiver request to install parking in front of one building, along with building permits.