WATERVILLE — Mayor Nick Isgro said Wednesday that he mailed handwritten notes of apology to Planning Board members Wednesday for derogatory comments he had made about them because of a vote they took Monday on a car wash proposal.

The board had voted 6-0 to postpone acting on a site plan for the car wash until the City Council had a chance to consider rezoning the property.

After Monday’s meeting, Isgro posted on Twitter that board members exposed the “depth of their indecisiveness and ineptitude” and a “much better screening process is needed for planning board candidates.” Isgro had 72 followers on Twitter at the time of the tweets.

Isgro said in a telephone interview Wednesday that in retrospect, it would have been more productive to call planners and speak to them directly about his frustration, and the apology letters he sent them explains that.

“Each one of them expresses that I’m sorry for the divisive nature of the comments that were made and that I’m looking forward to working with them in the future,” he said.

He said he tweeted the comments Monday because he is frustrated with the drawn-out and confusing process Jerald Hurdle has faced in seeking approval to build Yellow Dog Car Wash at 145 Kennedy Memorial Drive.

His comments drew anger from board members, with some calling them demeaning and unprofessional.

Board member Jessica Laliberte, for instance, said she is incensed by Isgro’s “highly offensive” comments.

“I am pro-business,” Laliberte said Tuesday. “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 that if Isgro has a problem with board members, he should call them.

“We donate our time to try to improve our community,” she said. “He should dignify it with a telephone call, not go on social media, slamming people.”

Planning Board Member Alicia Barnes and Chairman David Geller had similar reactions.

Geller said Wednesday that it is difficult to comment on a letter he has not seen yet.

“If he’s apologizing for making the inappropriate comments that he made regarding the Planning Board, I accept his apology,” Geller said.

Current zoning doesn’t allow the business on the lot. Hurdle, a dermatologist and proctologist, is asking the city to rezone the property to allow the business, which would be automatic, have no employees, and be open 24 hours, seven days a week.

Neighbors oppose the plan, saying the business would be noisy, draw vagrants and drug dealers and cause an already busy road to ice over in winter and be slippery.

Hurdle’s attorney, Aaron Rowden, of Waterville, issued a statement Wednesday to the Morning Sentinel, saying Hurdle is waiting for city government to resolve issues that prevent him from opening a new business, and it is unfortunate that “government is holding up beneficial economic development over a procedural dispute.”

“Dr. Hurdle and his prospective customers are not well served by continued procedural and legal ambiguity,” the letter says. “It is the responsibility of the city government to provide its residents and the business community with a transparent and efficient system for approving the best and highest use of property. Dr. Hurdle will continue to vigorously pursue his goal of bringing a needed and beneficial business to the City of Waterville.”

The letter says Hurdle expresses gratitude to both the council and the Planning Board, which have worked to advance the project and economic profile of the city, and he awaits action by the council Tuesday.

CHAIRMAN REACTS

Geller, an attorney, maintains that Isgro doesn’t understand the correct procedure for a zoning request.

“The logical, and in my opinion, the necessary way to do it is, have the council decide the zoning first,” he said. “If the council votes not to rezone it, it’s a moot point. It won’t be allowed.”

City Solicitor Bill Lee issued a letter to City Planner Ann Beverage on Monday, saying that while the Planning Board could review a site plan for the car wash and vote on it, the preferred route is that the council first consider whether the lot should be rezoned.

Geller took issue with some of Isgro’s answers to questions about the issue posed Wednesday by Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel Editorial Page Editor Ben Bragdon, who wrote an editorial for Wednesday’s Morning Sentinel on the topic.

Bragdon asked Isgro by email Wednesday whether Isgro was saying the Planning Board should have disregarded Lee’s opinion about waiting until the Kennedy Memorial Drive lot is rezoned before moving forward.

Isgro responded that he was not saying the board should have disregarded Lee’s opinion, which was that the board could review the site plan before the final rezone vote.

“This has been a three-month process, due partly to the fact that for the last couple of months the planning board has had a difficult time getting a quorum to move the city business forward,” Isgro wrote.

Geller said Isgro’s comment about a quorum is “absolutely not true.”

He noted the Planning Board has been without a quorum only once, on July 20, when Geller was out of the country on vacation, another board member was also on vacation and a third was in the final days of preparing for her wedding and could not attend the meeting.

Isgro’s email to Bragdon also says Monday’s board meeting was allowed to go on for more than an hour before the board voted to send the issue back to the council.

“Why let such a divisive issue go on for over an hour, upsetting the residents and Dr. Hurdle, when you know you’re not going to do anything?”

Geller said he announced at the start of the meeting that everybody who wanted to speak on the car wash issue would be given that opportunity and it took more than an hour for that to happen.

“That was a public forum, and everybody who spoke for and against the project seemed to have a very passionate presentation, and I didn’t want to take that opportunity away from anybody,” he said.

Isgro’s email to Bragdon says that, because business expansion and protection of residents are important to the city’s future, city officials need to act on the comprehensive plan and “have a committee review the entire zoning map that is anticipatory of the future rather than remaining reactionary.”

Geller said Isgro’s comment shows a lack of understanding of zoning laws and that an entire city’s zoning can’t just be changed.

“That would be akin to governmental taking of property without due process,” Geller said. “It has to be something requested by property owners, and then it’s up to the city to say it’s a good idea. Once again, the mayor’s comment shows he has a fundamental lack of understanding of law and of zoning and of due process. To do so would set the city up for a huge lawsuit.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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