News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 12, 2018
Co-op site plan vote waits on MDOT
Proposed crosswalk causes concern

Co-op plans for South street

Architect Bruce Stahnke explains details to the public of the proposed South Street store, the planned relocation of the Blue Hill Co-op, at a July 9 public hearing in Blue Hill.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

A planning board vote on the Blue Hill Co-op’s South Street commercial site plan application ended without final approval, based on questions over safe pedestrian access to the site. The board unanimously approved all other findings of fact based on the application for a 12,000 square foot store, featuring a street-facing café and side parking. The proposed footprint will cover about half of the 5.5 acre lot, architect Bruce Stahnke said.

The safety concern is over whether a proposed raised pedestrian crosswalk connecting the Co-op with the Bay School and Blue Hill Harbor School on the opposite side of South Street is appropriate for the project. The crosswalk was included in the application based on Maine Department of Transportation guidelines, but some planning board members and selectmen are not convinced it should be part of the application. A meeting between MDOT, the planning board, selectmen and the Co-op is in the works, and the Monday night meeting was not adjourned but continued, tentatively to July 23.

“I would defer to DOT [as to] the safest and most appropriate access to the site,” Planning Board Chairman Scott Miller said.

The raised crosswalk would be six inches high, and the town would be responsible for keeping it continuously clear of snow and other maintenance. Selectmen questioned whether as South Street was plowed, throwing snow onto the crosswalk, the town could keep it clear. Also raised was the issue of town liability.

“This is where we get into the problems of small towns and what we can accommodate,” Selectman Ellen Best said.

MDOT’s concern is that students from both schools will cross over to the co-op and need to make it there safely. A raised crosswalk would not only require cars to stop for pedestrians but effectively slow down cars in what is already a 15-mile-per-hour school zone.

However, board members and citizens pointed out that no such requirement was made for neighboring businesses built in the last few years, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway and, most recently, the Family Dollar store.

“Why is the Co-op special?” board member Adam Gray asked.

A tangential issue is that there are no sidewalks on either side of South Street for a crosswalk to connect to and no immediate plans on constructing them. A grant application to MDOT, completed by Blue Hill Community Development, if approved in 2019, could provide necessary funding but was turned down in 2018 when MDOT decided not to fund any new projects.

“I don’t quite understand why [the crosswalk] came up at all,” board member Henrietta Clews said. “I’m not in favor of it.”

Drainage, abutters and the Family Dollar

During the public hearing portion, abutter Don Paine, longtime owner and operator of adjacent Mainescape Nursery & Garden Shop, discussed the Co-op’s stormwater runoff plan, based on what he said he has seen at the neighboring Family Dollar, opened earlier this year.

“They scarred the landscape,” Paine said. “After every rainstorm I watch thousands of cubic pounds of soil washed down to the neighbors.”

Miller confirmed that Paine’s issue was not with the Co-op’s drainage plan, which is similar to the one approved for the Family Dollar store, but the execution of the plan, which uses catch basins, pipes and tanks to capture run off, a process that slows down the flow before the runoff is reintroduced into the landscape. The system is based on Department of Environmental Protection guidelines.

“What I think I heard is [the Family Dollar] fell down on execution and didn’t do what they said, or they’re not finished,” Miller said.

“Trust me, the Dollar Store does not have that system,” Paine said. “It’s dump and run.” CEO Judy Jenkins said she would check it out while Paine asked for “100 percent transparency” that the Co-op would do “what they tell us and DEP they [will] do.”

The Co-op plans to break ground later this year for a planned 2019 opening.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised from the July 12 print edition to reflect an updates to a future planning board meeting date.