AUGUSTA — O’Connor Motors wants to expand to the adjacent former Kirschner plant. But the plan has prompted worries about noise and light coming from the Riverside Drive site.

Despite those concerns, the Augusta Planning Board granted the project preliminary, conditional approval Tuesday.

Some of planners’ concerns come from personal experience with the existing O’Connor auto sales and service locations surrounding the proposed expansion.

“I live across the river and through the woods from the site, and the lighting (from O’Connor’s existing lots) is overpowering where I live,” said Paul Harris, a Planning Board member who lives on Buena Vista Drive, across the river from O’Connor Motors. “It’s so bright, I can sit out on my deck at 2 in the morning and read the paper.”

Harris and fellow board member Alison Nichols said noise from loudspeakers used by O’Connor, and other auto dealers, seems to travel up to a mile away from the site.

“We’d like to encourage you to not have outdoor loudspeakers, as we do with all businesses,” Nichols told business owner Randy Hutchins. “We’d encourage you to use cell phones. Sound travels an incredible distance up the river.”

Hutchins said the company had planned on using a loudspeaker system at the new location but, after hearing that was not desirable, said they could consider other options.

Elliott Thayer, of Thayer Engineering, a consultant for the project, said in response to Harris’ questions they would address his concerns, and that lighting for the new facility would comply with city requirements.

Thayer said the new location, which is adjacent to the original O’Connor Motors lot and across the street from newer O’Connor sales locations, will have an 18,000-square-foot building that will house four brands, all General Motors — Chevy, GMC, Cadillac and Buick.

“It’s a permitted use, surrounded by commercial uses,” Thayer said. “We think it’s a good fit.”

Vehicles will not be serviced at the new location. There will be a drive-in service waiting area where customers will drop off their vehicles for service. The actual repair work will take place elsewhere on O’Connor’s properties.

The former Joseph Kirschner Co. plant closed in 2004. The 10-acre site has been vacant since then. O’Connor had the 56,000-square-foot former meat-processing building demolished last year.

The total cost of the project is estimated to be $3 million, according to the permit application filed with the city, with $2.1 million for the building and $700,000 for site construction and ledge removal.

The property will include space for more than 630 vehicles.

Thayer said there is so much ledge on the site it is likely to be a challenge to remove it. He said they have a blasting plan to do so.

He said they hope to start work, pending final approval from the Planning Board which could come in May, this construction season.

O’Connor officials said previously it is rare for General Motors to allow all four bands to be sold from one building, but the corporation made an exception for O’Connor due to the firm’s large sales volume.

Hutchins purchased the business from the O’Connor family in 2005. The company has been in business for 61 years.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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