AUGUSTA — The Planning Board tonight recommended a proposed zone change that is expected to allow the state Department of Transportation to consolidate much of its heavy equipment and fleet maintenance operations to north Augusta and sell its Capitol Street maintenance garage site.

A few neighbors to the proposed site, which would be reached from Industrial Drive, expressed concern about the proposal, fearing increased truck traffic in an already congested area.

DOT officials, meanwhile, said the move will make their operations more efficient, thus saving taxpayers money, and get the state’s heavy equipment maintenance headquarters out of the urban part of the city while not just consolidating DOT operations but also providing a potential new home for other state agencies’ vehicle and equipment-related operations, as well.

The $10.5 million relocation project relies on a proposal to rezone part of a 19 Meadow Brook Drive site from the Rural River District to the Planned Development District, which is next to a lot at 66 Industrial Drive.

If the zoning is changed, DOT officials expect to finalize a $1.8 million deal to buy 66 Industrial Drive, a 57,000 square-foot warehouse plus 4,500 square feet of office space built in 1990 for Allen’s Transfer and Storage, a trucking company.

The property off Leighton Road near the intersection of Civic Center Drive has been vacant for several years.

The land is next to a 55-acre Meadow Brook Road property that the state bought for $200,000. The state hopes about 40 of those acres can be rezoned from rural river to planned development. The remaining land and residence would be put up for sale.

Three residents from the area spoke against making the zone change, expressing concern about water quality if heavy equipment is parked and maintained there, noise from plows and other heavy trucks at night, and the additional truck traffic they would expect.

“If you live in that stretch between Civic Center Drive and Leighton Road, you’re going to have, at 2 a.m., trucks coming in and out,” said Carolyn Vanhorn, a Leighton Road resident. “Would you want to live there? It’s residential. It was supposed to stay that way.”

Vanhorn and Civic Center Drive resident Shirley Ezzy said they don’t think long tractor-trailers will be able to make what Ezzy described as a 270-degree turn off Civic Center Drive onto Leighton Road, to get to the Industrial Drive site. City Engineer Lionel Cayer, however, said there already is truck traffic on Leighton Road and tractor-trailers should not have any problems making the turn from Civic Center Drive onto Leighton Road to reach the proposed DOT site.

Planners voted unanimously tonight to recommend the change. The proposed change also needs City Council approval.

Board member Alison Nichols said the proposal wouldn’t create an isolated zoning district, wouldn’t be incompatible with the area, and is in an area the city has designated as where it would like to see growth occur.

Dale Doughty, director of the DOT’s Bureau of Maintenance & Operations, said the newer building at the site would help improve the way the mechanics and fabricators do their work on the tall vehicles that don’t fit under a thick concrete header in the Capitol Street building.

Plans are to sell the 9-acre Capitol Street site, a few blocks west of the State House between Florence and Sewall streets.

David Smith, a former Planning Board member and current Greater Augusta Utilities District Board of Trustees member, said he recalls that about a dozen years ago, the state engaged city officials in a discussion as it formed a long-range plan for all state facilities in Augusta. He said participants agreed at the time that moving the heavy equipment maintenance facility out of the urban part of the city was desirable and could free up the site for more compatible uses.

“The state realized the maintenance facility there was a real eyesore, and they really wanted to move it out of there, out of urban area of the city,” Smith said. “This plan here is a very good attempt by the state to enact that plan.”

The 35,000-square-foot green garage building was built in 1920 and included a bullpen, which literally housed bulls or oxen that pulled heavy rollers to smooth out dirt roads for sleighs. Today the concrete-floored bullpen area is the tallest garage bay.

Doughty said the department has been seeking a different location for its heavy equipment maintenance garage but didn’t want to spend the estimated $15 million to $20 million it would cost to build a modern facility.

Doughty said the Industrial Drive site is a good space and has room for expansion.

Doughty said the department estimates annual savings of $1.4 million by eliminating redundancies and gaining efficiencies, which he said would allow for a seven-to-10-year payoff of the cost of the project.

According to the department’s proposal, both the Capitol Street site and a DOT paint facility on Leighton Road would be sold and the money used to help offset the new site’s cost.

If the council approves the zoning change, the project still would require review by the Planning Board.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]