Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 13, 2017
Planning board approves South Street commercial application
Engineer Oscar Emerson, left, and developer Tom Ellis discuss the proposal for a 9,600 square foot commercial building on 28 South Street on July 10 in Blue Hill.
by Anne Berleant
A new 9,600 square foot retail/commercial building at 28 South Street was given the go-ahead by the planning board in a unanimous vote after a public hearing on July 10.
“This project is relatively modest in size,” said applicant Tom Ellis, of Ellsworth Holdings, LLC, who said he has developed 20 such retail/commercial properties in “mostly small towns” across the state.
The property may be the site of a Family Dollar store, said Ellis, who is in talks with the national chain although a lease has yet to be signed. “When I go to a town, I look at their ordinances and see what is allowed. Some say no chain stores, no box stores.”
The building would replace the last residential building on the increasingly commercial strip of South Street. Ellis was granted commercial-retail building permits twice before for the property, which he purchased four years ago, but both had lapsed.
Those who spoke at the public hearing, rather than argue the lack of zoning, instead asked Ellis for concessions.
“We have no zoning or comprehensive plan. It’s easy for you to come here,” Charlotte Clews said, asking Ellis to hew to the character of Blue Hill, and use native plantings and low-impact signage.
Ellis emphasized that he “wants to fit in the community,” and has a history of working with towns where he develops commercial property.
And while one resident, Olivia Bruno, boldly stated, “I don’t feel like Family Dollar is where our town wants to go. We really don’t want it,” to applause, others, such as Tim Seeley, George Stevens Academy Head of School, said, “I think we should speak to our own opinion and not speak for the town. We need more places of employment and where everyone can shop. I think that the aesthetic of the building is important, to keep the character of a town, but [choosing which business] is a dangerous path to go down.”
Resident Lucas Randall asked that Ellis consider renting to local businesses. Ellis, agreeable, said he frequently rents commercial space to chiropractors, physical therapists, or insurance agents.
The sole abutter, Ginger Dewing, who lives directly behind the property, raised concerns over storm water drainage, and a wooded area that she said is home to a family of fishers, bears, and deer.
Ellis and engineer Oscar Emerson addressed storm water drainage, an issue for that strip of South Street, in the site plan by designing a system that will reportedly improve drainage from TradeWinds Market Place and Rite Aid, which crosses underneath South Street.
“I’ve changed the nature of the flow,” Emerson said. The area behind the building will not be used, Ellis said.
Parking for 26 vehicles will be in front, with a paved lane for pedestrians and an entrance 30 feet wide. Ellis said he would link the store to any future pedestrian sidewalk. The board added the condition of no outdoor displays or storage areas but balked at restricting signage as not following the commercial site plan ordinance, despite Ellis’s request to impose such conditions.
“We are constrained by our ordinance,” Blue Hill Planning Board Chairman Scott Miller had earlier noted.
He encouraged residents to give input as the planning board works on “housekeeping” revisions to the commercial site plan ordinance.
“For a variety of reasons, I am not currently proposing a revised Comprehensive Plan for the town,” he said after the meeting via email. “I think we can make better progress in gauging the town’s appetite for more or less restriction on land use via smaller, incremental changes to the substance of our existing ordinances.”
Preceding the hearing, the board also unanimously voted to accept a subdivision application for a family-owned Parker Point Road property, represented by attorney Ellen Best; held a public hearing on the application, which proposed four lots, three of which will be used for family members and one of which is not suitable for building; and then unanimously approved it.