Originally published in The Weekly Packet, August 3, 2017
M.E. Astbury’s new plan for Surry pit triggers state, local review
From left, Mike Astbury, his attorney Andrew Hamilton, Ned Beach, Conservation Commission member Nancy Hathaway and Surry Planning Board member Jacqueline Gray review the site plan review application documents on July 29.
by Anne Berleant
At a packed planning board meeting on July 26, M.E. Astbury & Son, Inc. and attorneys sidestepped questions on a mineral extraction permit granted by the Surry Planning Board in April by submitting an application for a larger site, triggering a site plan review and Department of Environmental Protection inspection and permit.
“I wanted everyone to be able to see the process and express their opinions,” Mike Astbury said of his decision to apply for the 7.9 acre pit on a 9.7 acre parcel.
The original permit was approved for a four-acre site where the former Carter 1.2-acre gravel pit had once operated, and was grandfathered under the Unified Development Ordinance. Astbury purchased a 20-acre parcel from the previous owner.
Abutter Scarlet Kinney had filed an appeal on the permit, tabled while the board created a non-shoreland zone mineral extraction permit application, submitted by Astbury post-permit.
A second administrative appeal filed by Conservation Commission member Lucy Leaf was unanimously denied by a full Board of Appeals on July 27.
While Astbury’s original permit application was for under five acres, with no DEP or site plan review required, he had said his plans were to expand to over five acres in five to 10 years.
Once CEO Tim Ferrell deems the site review plan application complete, the planning board will meet to review and vote on whether to approve the plan, based on UDO criteria. The board’s next regular meeting is August 23. Astbury’s attorney, Andrew Hamilton of Eaton Peabody, urged board chairman Bill Barker to fast-track the review. Leaf asked for more time.
“We feel we need at least a month to come up with evidence [for] the opposition. They’ve had all the time,” she said. Leaf also questioned a conflict of interest for board member Dan McGraw, who recused himself from any vote.
Conservation Commission Chairman Nancy Hathaway requested a commission seat on the planning board as permitted under state law.
The CEO has 10 days to review the application, which Ferrell said appeared to be complete, before submitting it to the board for approval. Barker assured the 60-odd citizens in attendance that meeting notice would be given, and the public allowed to speak, although he indicated a public hearing would not be held. Under the UDO, the board has the discretion to bypass public hearings on site plan review applications.
Some citizens preferred not to wait, and Barker and Astbury showed patience—even if Hamilton did not—as several voiced concerns and asked questions.
“A promise was made you’d take questions after [your] presentation,” Dan Meade reminded Hamilton after one of his several attempts to hold questions for the subsequent site plan review meeting.
The proposed site is in the roadside residential area on Morgan Bay Road, with seven Surry and three Blue Hill abutters. Because of the pre-existing Carter gravel pit on the site, mineral extraction is a lawfully non-conforming use.
“I have lived adjacent [to the site] for 25 years, and there’s been no gravel extraction until this spring,” Scarlet Kinney said. “Mike has done a great job but I think the town of Surry is not prepared to handle this situation. It’s nobody’s fault.”
Access to public records denied?
Several citizens stated that the town office had refused access to Astbury’s permit application until July 25. Under the Freedom of Access Act, access to public records must be granted upon written or oral request. A government agency has five working days to grant or deny the request, and may charge a copying fee. Exemptions to FOAA are defined in the Act.
Citizens at the meeting were assured that the new site plan review application would be made available, with a $10 copying fee. In addition, Hamilton said notification of the submitted application would be sent to all abutters.
“I’ve worked hard to be a good employer, good neighbor and good to customers,” Astbury said, noting the presence of eight gravel pits along Route 172 and Morgan Bay Road. “I do pledge to be as good a neighbor as we can be.”