The town of Rangeley has scheduled a special town meeting Monday night to vote on a six-month moratorium on industrial projects in the town’s commercial districts following controversy over a planned concrete plant in the Cemetery Hill Commercial Subdivision.
The proposed moratorium would be enacted “for the express purpose of drafting an amendment or amendments to the Town’s current Zoning Ordinance to ensure that the uses permitted in the Downtown Commercial and Commercial Districts are in conformance with the Comprehensive Plan,” the warrant states.
Initial disagreements over the plant centered on whether it qualified as light or heavy industrial use under the town’s zoning ordinance.
The ordinance defines a heavy industrial business as “a use engaged in the basic processing and manufacturing of materials or products predominantly from extracted raw material.” Light industrial is defined as “use engaged in the manufacture, predominantly from previously prepared materials, of finished products or parts including processing, fabrication, assembly treatment, packaging, incidental storage, sales and distribution of such products.”
The town of Rangeley currently only allows for light industrial uses in commercial zones.
According to the application M&H Construction, the company heading up the project, submitted to the town planning board and code enforcement officer in October, the purpose of the portable concrete plant would be to measure concrete ingredients into awaiting trucks. The trucks would then mix the ingredients together while in transit to construction sites.
In the application letter, M&H general manager Kenneth J. Haley stated the company expects the plant to supply up to 18 loads of concrete materials a week, requiring it to operate for up to five hours a week between the hours of 6 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Haley said he expected up to an additional five hours of activity at the site each week as trucks refreshed mixing materials.
The company subsequently offered to push the plant’s start time to 7 a.m. in response to residents’ concerns about noise.
The application states the plant would be set in a back corner of a 70,062-square-foot lot in the Cemetery Hill Commercial Subdivision off of Route 4 with a footprint of about 6 percent of the available space for both the plant and storage areas. The plant would use electric motors, and the tallest sections of the structure would rise 59 feet into the air, approximately 35 feet below the surrounding tree tops.
“Concrete plants of this size are very easy on the environment and Maine DEP has limited rules to that need to be adhered to for this operation,” the application reads.
Robert Folsom, the town’s former code enforcement officer, initially ruled in favor of M&H’s application, agreeing with the company that their plan fell under the town’s light industrial ordinance and referring them to the town planning board. In its November meeting, the planning board confirmed Folsom’s designation and scheduled a public hearing on the project for December.
At the hearing some residents challenged Folsom and the board’s findings while others expressed concerns about the plant’s potential environmental impact and the noise of cement trucks moving in and out of the lot. Selectman Robert Welch, who said he attended the meeting as a resident, not in his capacity as a member of the select board, suggested the board consult with the town’s attorney on the ordinance definitions. Welch also encouraged the board to review the 2012 comprehensive plan and consider the potential effects of locating the plant off of the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway.
“Small towns often have ordinances that need more clarification, and my position was, as a resident, you should be taking advantage of all the resources you have which includes legal counsel, which includes public hearings,” Welch said in an interview. “There’s a whole litany of things that are available, and they should take advantage of those particularly when something is being seen differently by different parties in the community.”
In a Dec. 22 letter, town attorneys Stephen Langsdorf and Kristin Collins reversed Folsom and the planning board’s findings and advised Folsom to withdraw his referral to the planning board. M&H appealed the decision to the town’s zoning board of appeals, which voted unanimously in favor of the company.
“We had to do our own fact-finding and come up with our own conclusion,” said appeals board member Brian St. Louis.
Following the appeals board ruling, opponents of the plant circulated a petition requesting a moratorium on industrial uses in the town and a revision of town ordinances so they complied with the town’s comprehensive plan.
Haley said the company had worked to compromise with the town and fellow residents throughout the application process. In addition to shifting the plant’s operating hours, the company offered to grow trees to further block views of the plant from the scenic byway, rinse trucks at another property to address concerns about potential run off to Hatchery Brook and create a sediment pond on-site to capture any potential runoff.
At one point Haley said, M&H had proposed moving the plant to another location if opposing residents purchased an equivalent lot with the idea that M&H would trade its lot in the Cemetery Hill Subdivision for the new property. Haley said he did not receive a response to this offer.
Numerous opponents to the plant did not return calls seeking comment.
Haley said the plant was part of the company’s efforts to diversify their business. M&H currently employs between 18 and 26 people, depending on the season, and the hope was to keep current employees on the payroll and potentially add one or two additional jobs in the near term.
With the meeting looming, Haley pointed to the approximately 200 lots he and his partners own in Rangeley as proof of their deep interest in the town’s well-being.
“We’re not going to do anything that hurts the town,” Haley said. “We’ve been here our whole lives. We have all kinds of family here. We love this town.”
Kate McCormick — 861-9218