WATERVILLE — Jennifer Bergeron announced Tuesday she was pulling her request to rezone the former Sacred Heart Church property off Pleasant Street so it could become an events center and would instead submit a new proposal, following extensive discussion from the Planning Board on their memo and recommendation to the City Council.

“It’s been suggested it would be a quicker process if we pull the proposal,” Bergeron said toward the end of the Planning Board meeting Tuesday night.

Bergeron and her partners make up BACAS, which had requested the zoning change at 72 Pleasant and 5 Middle streets, a proposal that’s drawn sharp opposition from some neighbors who say the proposed events center would be disruptive to their residential neighborhood.

There was discussion at the meeting Tuesday evening about potential changes to the uses of the buildings on the property, with Thomas Swider, one of Bergeron’s partners, mentioning that they are in talks with a soup kitchen about using the space and local nonprofits about renting the office space.

Maureen Ausbrook, a minister at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, said that her ministry, Starfish Village, has committed to renting space from BACAS on the property — even though she previously spoke against the events center plan.

Samantha Burdick, chair of the Waterville Planning Board, listens Tuesday during a meeting at The Elm in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

But on the advice of Portland lawyer James N. Katsiaficas, who is representing the city on this issue, board chair Samantha Burdick said that the board could only consider the proposal from the City Council — not other potential options.


That’s a point that was repeated several times throughout the meeting, directed both at BACAS and community members.

“Our job here today is to just comment on what the City Council has sent to us,” Burdick said. “So while it is fun to be able to dream of what our ideal thing is, we unfortunately can’t make that determination of what the property owners can do with their property.”

So instead of the Planning Board sending a recommendation on this proposal to the City Council, the process will have to begin again once BACAS has finalized details and submits a new proposal, which at the meeting Katsiaficas and Burdick said would likely still require some amount of rezoning.

Prior to Bergeron’s decision to pull the proposal, the board evaluated whether it was consistent with the city’s growth management comprehensive plan and if the rezoned areas would be consistent with the existing and permitted uses in the original zone.

The board chose to evaluate the church building itself — site of the proposed events center — as well as the office building and the rectory on the property, all separately.

When looking at the events center, board members said that it does not meet the criteria to be consistent with the comprehensive plan, as it would not advance the goals listed under the housing section of the comprehensive plan, or the demographic goal to “create a city that is a great place to live, raise a family and grow a business.”


“I would say that we have heard from neighbors and neighborhood groups — two different neighborhood groups, the United Methodists group as well as a group of neighbors — saying that it would impact negatively,” Burdick said.

They similarly said that the events center would not be consistent with existing and permitted uses in the original zone, because of the proposed late hours of the venue and the alcohol service.

Waterville city officials have been considering a proposed zoning change on Pleasant and Middle streets to allow the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church property to become an events center. On Tuesday, the groups proposing the events center said it would pull the current proposal and resubmit another plan for the site. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

The rectory, which would be used as a single-family home, was found to be consistent with the comprehensive plan and the existing and permitted uses of the original zone.

When looking at the office building on the property, the board said it feels it is consistent with the comprehensive plan, although it became clear that it was not actually zoned correctly to be used as an office in the first place.

“I did not see any specific goals or policies in the comprehensive plan that this would be a negative impact on,” said board member David Johnson.

The office building, which was previously used as the Diocese office, is on a section of the property that is zoned as Residential B, which does not actually permit office spaces. So while using the building as an office under the proposed plan is consistent with the existing uses, it is not actually consistent with the permitted uses.


Board members inquired if that could be solved by rezoning the building to be under Residential D, but while that zone does allow offices it does not allow offices on Gilman Street and Pleasant Street, where the property is located.

There was limited public comment on the topic, as Burdick asked those who were unable to speak at the last meeting because of technical difficulties to speak first, and then anyone else to focus their comments on the specific discussion of the proposal from the City Council.

Rein Finch, a resident of Pleasant Street, speaks Tuesday to the Planning Board in opposition to rezoning the former Sacred Heart Church as an events center during a meeting at The Elm in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Rein Finch, a resident who lives near the church, suggested that the memo language be changed so that the zoning reverts back to residential if the use changes, instead of if the property is sold again. He also said that while there are a lot of emotions around this issue, that the board’s duty is to compare the proposal against the comprehensive plan.

“The comprehensive plan really suggests supporting business development within zoning districts that are already zoned for commercial use, instead of infringing into residential,” Finch said. “And that there’s really no compelling reason to move into residential and to disrupt the harmony of the residential neighborhood.”

Waterville Mayor Jay Coelho spoke briefly to ask the board to include in its memo conditions that would make the proposal work so that the City Council can evaluate those options as well in the future.

“I think that would be helpful for the City Council because then they have something where they have some guidance going forward.,” Coelho said. “I think this has gone back and forth a few times, because there hasn’t been guidance from the City Council and then coming back from the Planning Board there’s some stuff being lost in translation.”

April Chiriboga, a board member of the Waterville Planning Board, listens to discussion Tuesday over rezoning the former Sacred Heart Heart Church on Pleasant Street in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Ultimately, with Bergeron choosing to pull the proposal, the process will begin again, continuing the already lengthy saga of the property. So the City Council, the Planning Board and residents will wait to see the new proposal for the property and see what it includes, whether that be nonprofits or a soup kitchen or an events center.

“I still think that property — in order to do even that — this property still needs to be rezoned to commercial and the office building needs to be rentable,” said Swider, the BACAS partner. “And we may still want to hold events there, which would probably mainly be fundraising for the nonprofits. So it doesn’t really change the plan; I think it fleshes out the idea a little bit more fully.”

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