WATERVILLE — Three of four city councilors interviewed Friday said they will approve rezoning a parcel to allow a controversial car and dog wash on Kennedy Memorial Drive, as they struck a more conciliatory tone on the issue that sparked a war of words between the mayor and Planning Board last week.

The full seven-member council will consider the rezoning for the third time in six weeks Tuesday after rejecting the request July 21. The council had voted July 7 to approve rezoning.

Jerald Hurdle, a Waterville doctor, owns the property and wants to build Yellow Dog Car Wash, which would be open 24 hours, seven days a week and have no employees. Neighbors oppose the business, saying it would be noisy, draw drug dealers and vagrants and cause roads to be icy and dangerous in winter. The neighbors include members of the Weeks family, which formerly owned the property and ran A.L. Weeks & Sons auto body shop and car sales there. The building is now empty and in disrepair.

The Planning Board Monday voted 6-0 to postpone voting on it until the council decided whether to rezone, with some planners saying if the council rejects rezoning, then the site plan is moot.

Planning Board Chairman David Geller said before the Aug. 10 planning meeting he would not vote on the site plan while it was in the wrong zone and that proposing a project in an appropriate zone is a fundamental requirement of board approval.

The discussion over the proposal has been contentious, not only between Hurdle and the neighbors, but also between Mayor Nick Isgro and the Planning Board, including social media criticism of the board by Isgro that prompted him to apologize last week.

Councilors interviewed Friday struck a more conciliatory tone.

“We should be allowing the Planning Board to do what it’s supposed to be doing — to look at the concerns of the neighbors and obviously to look at having a positive business coming in to contribute to our tax base,” Coucilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said. “I think there’s a definite compromise here.”

Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, a former Planning Board member, said Friday that the board knows more about the car and dog wash proposal than anyone at this point and they should be given the opportunity to move forward on it, so she is in favor of the rezoning.

She also said she wanted to apologize to Hurdle on behalf of the city, as the process for reviewing his plan has taken much longer than it should. “No business should take this amount of time to come into our city,” she said.

The City Council meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at The Center.

Mayhew, who said he is going to vote to rezone the property, said the city and neighborhood would be best served by having a “clean and productive” business on the site. He said he thinks that Hurdle will be willing to accept restrictions on the plans to allow for that.

One of the issues neighbors are concerned about is that the business would be open 24 hours, but Mayhew said he thinks Hurdle is willing to compromise and have the vacuums turned off overnight.

After discussing the issue at length July 21, councilors rejected the rezoning request. Mayhew, though, asked to reconsider the question, saying the city should be more business friendly, and the council postponed the issue until after the Planning Board could vote on a site plan for the business.

Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, also said she plans to vote to rezone the property.

“I don’t have a problem with it going in,” she said of the business. “If we don’t do something with it, we’ll just end up having a dilapidated building.”

Rancourt-Thomas said officials can listen to both the residents and the developer and come up with a solution that makes everyone happy.

“I think that should be our number one priority — making the residents happy and to bring new business into Waterville.”

Bushee agreed. “I think it’s a decrepit building that has been a business for years, and I don’t think this business is going to create the havoc the neighbors think it will. I’m willing to support residents investing in the city, and that’s exactly what needs to happen.”

Geller said last week that he opposes spot zoning — changing the zone of a lot at the owner’s request in the absence of any public necessity or need — and that applied to the car wash project.

Isgro has also said that the city needs to look at and review zoning issues so that spot zoning doesn’t occur. Mayhew said he agrees with that, too.

Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, opposes rezoning the lot.

“I’m probably standing by my neighborhood and voting against it,” O’Donnell said Friday. “It just seems that the neighbors overwhelmingly don’t want it and for us to change a zone to do a spot zoning essentially — you have to have some really good cause to do that, I think.”

O’Donnell said he thinks 145 Kennedy Memorial Drive, which backs onto residential properties on Merryfield Avenue, is not the right location for such a business.

“One of the concerns I have is the fact that they apparently have to change the setback on the side of the building where cars come in,” he said.

The site plan calls for two lanes for traffic on the east side of the proposed building. To meet the setback requirements, one lane may have to be eliminated, which O’Donnell thinks would cause traffic to back up on Kennedy Memorial Drive.

The back and forth between planners and councilors on the issue prompted Isgro to call Planning Board members inept and cowardly on Twitter late Monday. He said the board could have approved the site plan with conditions before the issue was sent to councilors despite a recommendation by City Solicitor Bill Lee that the council consider rezoning first.

Isgro’s comments incensed planners, who said it was unprofessional and immature to blast them on a social media site and that he should have vented his frustrations to them personally through a phone call or face-to-face.

Isgro then said he mailed letters of apology to planners, saying he was sorry for the divisive comments.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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