WATERVILLE — A proposal to raze a former bank building at 345 Main St. and build a 1,700-square-foot Taco Bell fast-food restaurant in its place has moved a step closer to reality after city councilors voted to amend the zoning ordinance to allow for the project.

The council must take another vote to finalize the zone change and is expected to vote again in two weeks.

As part of the 6-1 vote Tuesday, the council approved a zone change from Commercial-C to a contract zone with a 15-foot building setback. Commercial-C did not meet the building setback requirements.

The Planning Board last month voted 5-2 to recommend that councilors change the zone from Commercial-C to Commercial-A, but Council Chairman John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, recommended it be changed instead to a contract zone with a 15-foot setback because the Commercial-A zone requires no setback. Councilors voted to approve that amendment and later voted 6-1 to change the zoning ordinance in accordance with O’Donnell’s amendment.

O’Donnell said Wednesday that two Planning Board members, including David Geller, last month expressed concern about changing the zone to Commercial-A because it required no building setback, and Geller thought a more appropriate zone would be a contract zone where a particular setback can be specified. That way, if the property is sold later and the Taco Bell building is razed, a new building could not be constructed up against an abutting property owner’s line.

“I simply said that if these folks can live with something less than 20 feet but more than zero, maybe we ought to shoot for that,” O’Donnell said Wednesday. “I proposed a 15-foot setback. I moved to amend, so it would be 15-foot setback in a contract zone as opposed to a Commercial-A zone.”

When the council voted to approve the zone change with the amendment including the contract zone, O’Donnell was the lone dissenter, however — even though he recommended the amendment.

He said he knew the council would approve the change but voted against it to show support for something resident Brad Sherwood said at a council meeting last month.

“He spoke up about the out-of-state corporations placing fast food joints in small towns and doing very little for towns economically,” O’Donnell said. “I referred to Brad and I said I don’t want to be considered non-friendly to business, but I just think we have reached our limit with fast food and I opposed it.”

In other matters Tuesday, Ward 5 resident Julian Payne spoke to councilors about what he thought could be a conflict of interest on the Planning Board. At the board’s meeting last month, Nick Champagne, who was attending the meeting for the first time as a new member, was elected chairman, which ousted Geller, who had been chairman eight years and a board member 11 years. Besides Champagne himself, those voting for Champagne included two other new members, Champagne’s father, Mark, and Bruce White.

Nick Champagne, an engineer for A.E. Hodsdon Engineers, of Waterville, had worked on a proposal by Jerald Hurdle for a dog and car wash on Kennedy Memorial Drive that the council rejected Aug. 17 last year. Payne said if an issue came before the board in the future and a board member were involved in a project, he should not vote on that project.

Mayor Nick Isgro, who had nominated the Champagnes and White to the Planning Board before council approval of those nominations last month, agreed, saying that member would have to recuse himself from voting because of a conflict of interest.

“I assume that if something had to do specifically with his employer, in general that will create a conflict of interest,” Isgro said.

Isgro also referred to Payne’s comment about two board members being related, saying he understood what Payne was saying.

“It’s tough in a small town, and we did have a pretty thorough application process,” Isgro said.

He added that the city’s new ethics committee could give city officials some guidance on the matter. Payne also cited the importance of being careful not to rezone properties for quick financial gain for the city.

In unrelated issues, the council voted 7-0 to adopt a 180-day moratorium ordinance for dealing with requests for marijuana-related facilities. Having the ordinance in place would give the city time to consider appropriate sites for such operations and determine what restrictions should be applied to them. The council must take one more vote to enact the ordinance.

Councilors also voted 7-0 to refer to the Planning Board a request to recommend to the council appropriate locations and restrictions for marijuana-related businesses. According to the proposed moratorium, marijuana-related businesses include dispensaries, cultivation operations and storage sites.

If adopted, the ordinance would defer issuance of licenses or permits to such facilities by prohibiting city boards, agencies and officials from accepting or processing applications and/or issuing authorizations, permits, licenses and approvals for 180 days.

Councilors also voted 7-0 to accept $8,000 worth of gift cards seized in a police investigation with those cards to be redeemed and money used to support Police Department operations.

Roy said the city checked with the banks and businesses that issued the illegally obtained gift cards, as well as with the district attorney’s office, and the cards do not have to be returned to those entities. The banks and businesses already have written them off, Roy said.

City councilors approved the Police Department’s use of the money as part of their vote.

Councilors also voted 7-0 to refer to the Planning Board a request by College Quik Stop at 288 West River Road to rezone the property so it would meet building setback requirements for a canopy with gasoline pumps.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.