DAMARISCOTTA — After several meetings and the potential threat of a development moratorium, Damariscotta Planning Board found the application for a three-building, multi-million-dollar development complete at its regular meeting on Nov. 13.

The unanimous vote came after the board went line-by-line over the requirements the applicants needed to meet at the Oct. 16 meeting. Some missing items, such as a written request for a waiver on parking and the question of whether an impact study was needed, were completed and handed in to the town prior to the Nov. 13 meeting.

The development, to be located at 435 Main Street, and proposed by Commercial 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.

The application came soon after some controversy arose due to another development the planning board approved at the corner of Main Street and Biscay Road, which consists of a Dollar General and Sherwin Williams, came under criticism by some residents who didn’t agree with the multiple waivers the planning board granted the developers.

Planning board members were understandably deliberate with the new application, making sure every requirement for a complete application was met with plenty of public notice about the process.
Some members were concerned about the lack of an impact study with the application, and wanted to make absolutely sure that if the board decided the project merited one, they could still request it even if they found the application complete.

“If this plan concludes that it needs an impact study, then the time to do it is site plan application review,” said Town Planner Anthony Dater.

Other primary concerns for the board, and some members of the public present, was the project’s potential impact on aquaculture. Given the Damariscotta River’s use for oyster cultivation, any impacts to water quality could harm industries downstream.

“If that seems to be a big issue, the board could get an independent engineer to review the water quality aspect of the proposal,” said Dater.

Andrew Sturgeon, representing the developers, said the project will already be going through review by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “I appreciate the concern, it’s a concern in a lot of communities,” he said.

A key point to the application was the developer’s request for a waiver on parking. Damariscotta’s ordinance requires that any building erected in the project’s zoning district have all parking placed to the rear of the building. Sturgeon said given the building’s location on a busy section of Route 1, outside the downtown area, the requirement doesn’t fit the project.
“This is quite a ways out from the downtown area; it’s consistent with the other buildings in the area,” said Sturgeon.

Having the building right near the road would force customers to walk around to the front of the building, and the building also needs to be at least 50 feet from the road. “From a safety issue, it doesn’t make sense to us, hence we’re requesting the waiver.”

The applicants also plan to screen any parking with a slight berm that would hide the majority of cars parked out front.

Planning Board member Wilder Hunt said he was pleased with what he saw in the waiver, and saw no need to reduce the parking that the application called for.

“My comment about parking is, the Town of Damariscotta has an acute parking problem,” he said. “I can’t believe we sit here and ask you to reduce parking, when we, as a town, need more parking.”

He also took a moment to thank the developers for their patience on the application process.

“This group has done an excellent job,” he said. “I see these additions as very, very positive.”

However, board members Andrew Maltese and Shari Sage asked for more time to review the proposal and receive comments.

The eventual decision was to discuss the parking waiver at the next planning board meeting, and determine whether the applicants need to be present to discuss the issue.

Any final decision on the development, however, is still a ways off.

“We’re not going to pass this thing tonight, it ain’t going to happen,” said Board Chair Jonathan Eaton.