WATERVILLE — Mayor Nick Isgro slammed Planning Board members for postponing a decision on a proposed car wash Monday, calling them inept and cowardly.

“Waterville planning board exposes the depth of their indecisiveness and ineptitude,” Isgro wrote Monday night on Twitter. A second tweet from the mayor said that “obviously a much better screening process is needed for planning board candidates.”

In a phone interview Tuesday, Isgro, who had 72 followers on Twitter at the time of the posts, commented further by saying the decision to postpone the vote was a “cowardly move by the Planning Board” and makes it appear the city is not friendly to business.

“What we are witnessing right now is a travesty of public relations, and it’s really exposing the broken business process in Waterville,” the mayor said. He added that the city has a zoning map that is “fractured all over the place,” and over the years, no one has taken the time to go over that map to delineate zones that make sense for the city.

The board voted 6-0 Monday to postpone voting on a site plan for Yellow Dog Car Wash, a business proposed by Jerald Hurdle at 145 Kennedy Memorial Drive, until after the City Council has voted to rezone the property to allow for the business. That course of action also was recommended by the city’s attorney.

Planning Board members on Tuesday reacted with exasperation to Isgro’s comments.

“It’s unfortunate that Mayor Isgro feels the need to resort to name-calling when he doesn’t get his way,” board Chairman David Geller said Tuesday. “And it also shows that he has a lack of understanding regarding the process that is required to rezone a property and when there’s an active site plan review request.”

Planning Board member Alicia Barnes said she was offended by Isgro’s characterization of the board.

“I think it’s very unprofessional of him to say that about the Planning Board,” Barnes said. “I’m really offended. I’ve been on the Planning Board about four years. I think I missed one meeting in four years. I always review materials before the meetings. I always try to be fair. That’s my goal, is to be fair, to business owners and residents.”

She said Isgro posting the critical comments on Twitter about the board is as big an issue as his opposition to the board’s actions, since he’s the figurehead for the city.

And board member Jessica Laliberte said late Tuesday she is incensed by Isgro’s “highly offensive” comments.

“I am pro business,” Laliberte said. “I worked for the state’s largest business association (Maine State Chamber of Commerce) and advocated before the Legislature, regulating agencies, for a network of 5,000 businesses, so I think I am pro business.

She said, “If he has an issue, then he should call us and speak to us privately and have a professional conversation, not go on social media and blast these folks on the board.”

At Monday’s board meeting, Geller read aloud an email from City Solicitor Bill Lee to City Planner Ann Beverage, stating that while the board probably could approve a site plan contingent on the council’s approving a zone change, “the strongly preferred route is to have the zoning change approved first. That way the proposed use is legal at the time the Planning Board considers the site plan.”

Lee’s email also said if the board approved the site plan with conditions and the council approves a zoning change with terms that contradict those conditions, the applicant must go back to the Planning Board with a modified plan.

Geller said Isgro “can’t have it both ways,” pointing to the mayor’s comments to the Morning Sentinel last week about the car wash proposal. Isgro told the Sentinel he had been assured by Lee and City Planner Ann Beverage that the board could make the site plan approval conditional on rezoning the area, adding that he respects Geller’s position against rezoning the parcel, “but I think this is a case of who makes that decision. Is it David Geller or the city attorney and city planner? I’m going to fall back on the people we pay to advise on these things.”

Geller said that’s just what happened Monday when the board followed Lee’s advice.

Isgro “can’t say ‘follow it’ and when the Planning Board does follow the recommendation, he seems to have a tantrum,” Geller said. “Name-calling is just immature and unnecessary and doesn’t further the discussion.”

‘US VS. THEM’?

The car and dog wash project has been in the works since June, when the Planning Board recommended that the City Council rezone the parcel to allow Hurdle to build the 24-hour business at the site of the former A.L. Weeks & Sons auto body shop and used car business.

Hurdle, a dermatologist and proctologist, told the board Monday night that the project would be good for the community and many people, including health care workers who work the graveyard shift and can’t wash their vehicles or dogs during regular hours. Neighbors complained, however, that it would cause noise, draw vagrants and drug dealers, and make the streets icy and dangerous in winter.

At the meeting, Barnes moved to postpone voting on the site plan for the business until the council votes to rezone, if it does. Geller seconded her motion.

The council had rejected Hurdle’s rezoning request at a July 21 meeting but reversed its position last week, voting to reconsider rezoning the parcel. Councilors did so after Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said the denial made it appear that Waterville is against new businesses.

On Tuesday, Isgro lamented how the issue pitted people against each other.

“The biggest tragedy of this situation is that instead of working to bring people together so that a new business gets opened and residents feel good about their protections, this process has been divisive and turned into an ‘us vs. them’ situation,” Isgro said. “I expect better from elected and appointed officials.”

Laliberte said Tuesdsay that the Planning Board acted on the advice of the city attorney.

And Barnes said that in her time on the board, they have never reviewed a site plan before a property is rezoned.

“It was a unanimous decision last night,” she said Tuesday. “The process is, you rezone, and there’s a final application for the site plan. In almost four years, that’s always happened first.”

She added that this is also the first time she has seen someone buy a property before it is rezoned.

“To disregard his advice would have been reckless,” she said.

Board member Paul Lussier, who has been supportive of the car and dog wash proposal, said Planning Board members are “good folks.”

“They don’t have an ax to grind. They look at both sides. They do their homework,” he said. “I don’t know what more one could ask of Planning Board members. These folks are intelligent, and they care, and they’re doing their homework, and they want to make a good decision. It’s a tough job for them, and it’s a tough job for the council.”

Lussier, who was a code enforcement officer 14 years — five in Waterville and nine in Oakland — said he has attended hundreds of Planning Board meetings and dealt with many members over the years, and the current board is a very good one.

“I don’t want to condemn the mayor or speak ill of him,” Lussier said. “I think it’s a tough job, and he’s doing as good a job as he can. It’s unfortunate that he disagrees, and if he thinks he’d like to replace me, all he’s got to do is ask me to resign and I’d be glad to resign. If he’d like, he can have my resignation. I’m not there for the money. I think I bring something to the table over there. I guess I would ask, ‘What should the criteria be for Planning Board members?'”

Planning Board member Jackie Dupont said Tuesday that she stands by the board’s decision to postpone a vote. Like Barnes, Dupont said that during her four years on the board, it has always followed the process of zoning first and then final site plan review.

“It is done this way for a specific reason, as we cited last night with City Solicitor Bill Lee’s assessment,” she said.

The site plan doesn’t comply with zoning, and therefore “approving the site plan would approve uses that are not legal at this time,” Dupont said.

“While it may appear to some that our vote was indecisive, if one looks at the history of our process and our stance on this issue, one would see the consistent position the board has taken on this matter.”

Board member Laliberte also said members “donate our time to try to improve our community.”

“(Isgro) should dignify it with a telephone call, not by going on social media, slamming people,” she said.

This is an enhanced version of the original story.

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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