WATERVILLE — Residents from the Sacred Heart Church area have filed a petition with the City Council outlining concerns about the ongoing effort to rezone the property as an events center, and steps residents would like to see the council take going forward.

The petition was put together by a group of residents, said Josh Martin, a resident involved with the effort. They brought the petition to neighbors who lived within two and a half blocks of the church and got a total of 86 signatures.

Martin said that residents felt their concerns were not listened to and given the same weight as concerns from the developer.

“It felt a little like a freight train, kind of running through very quickly without a lot of concern or consideration for the neighborhood,” Martin said.

The petition states that residents are concerned about the new use disrupting the neighborhood, particularly the developer’s request to serve alcohol and not have a strict closing time. The petition said the plan has “the potential to reduce our enjoyment of our homes and reduce property values.”

“Many residents brought up that they had young kids or knew people who had young kids in the area and didn’t think it was appropriate” to have late hours, alcohol and that level of traffic with kids, Martin said.

Prior to approving a rezoning, the residents request that the city take a number of steps to address their concerns, including perform a socio-economic impact study for various use cases of the property and request a Maine Department of Transportation study on traffic flow.

The rezoning effort has been a contentious issue and sparked sharp words from councilors on both sides of the issue when discussed at a June 15 meeting.

The Planning Board previously recommended that the rezoning be approved with the conditions that no alcohol be served, the venue hours be restricted to 7 a.m.-9 p.m. and the church office be used only by the events center and not rented out for another use.

At the June 15 meeting, the council ignored the board’s recommendation and instead voted 4-3 to approve the rezoning with alcohol allowed to be served on site. Conditions the council agreed on were: the center would close by 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on Saturday, outgoing traffic from the site would be diverted to Middle and North streets, and if Bergeron sells the property, the site would revert back to the former zone.

But all of that will need to be repeated, as the city received a legal opinion that it had not followed the correct procedures in approving the rezoning.

Martin said that it wasn’t that residents were opposed to any changes with the property, it was that they didn’t feel included in the process.

“As neighbors of this we don’t want nothing to happen — this is not a no situation — we want something to happen with this property, we want something to happen with the building,” Martin said. “But we don’t think this is an at all costs situation where something that would be very disruptive to our lives is worth the perseveration of the building if that is all that is going to be achieved with this.”

After reviewing the petition, Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, said in a phone interview Tuesday that while he understood the residents’ concerns, he felt some of them were “unfounded.”

Thomas has supported the rezoning effort and voted in favor of it without conditions in June. He said that knowing the developer and the property, he did not think that the worst-case scenario residents fear would happen.

“Things change and cities change zoning all the time,” Thomas said. “We will see how this issue ends up, but I haven’t changed my mind.”

Councilor Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, said that the petition and local organizing has gotten her attention and that she wants to ensure that residents are included in the process going forward.

“Frankly the extent to which the neighborhood has organized around this issue does get my attention, and because of the strong feelings around this, that really needs to be resolved if we are going to move forward,” Green said. “There is no point in opening an event center if the whole neighborhood is opposed to it.”

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