ELLSWORTH – A Lamoine couple with plans to develop two apartment buildings in a residential Ellsworth neighborhood was told Wednesday to get a second opinion on their storm water management plan – at their own expense.
The decision by the city’s planning board is the latest in a struggle between developers Anthony and Elizabeth Belch and the neighborhood’s residents.
At a public hearing Wednesday, several who live in the neighborhood spoke out about the proposed development. The comments touched on technical aspects such as storm water management but also included more personal concerns such as the effect the apartments will have on property values.
“I love my neighborhood and I think it’s at risk,” said Nancy Foster, who lives on Spencer Street.
The Belch’s two-building, eight-unit development is planned for a parcel of land between Spencer and Carlisle, two parallel streets off Main Street.
Robert Winglass, who also lives on Spencer, spoke about personal safety and his own privacy, which he feels will be threatened by the apartment complex.
“This [development] is a direct infringement on my rights as a property owner,” he said.
Many called out the Belches directly, asking them why they are changing the neighborhood. They even drew attention to several “no trespassing” signs that recently have been put up on the Belches’ property.
“The reason for all the signs is because we’ve been yelled at; our workers have been yelled at,” Anthony Belch explained. “I agree with all of you that this is a nice, quiet neighborhood and I really am trying to minimize the impact.”
“I want to work with the neighbors, but they haven’t agreed to meet with me about their issues,” he said. “They’re just throwing lawyers at me.”
Aside from the residents who spoke, Dana Nelson, a soil scientist familiar with the area, told the planning board that he disagreed with the Belches’ engineer regarding storm water management.
The area, he said, is at a high risk for flooding, and additional development will only increase that risk.
Belch, however, said their plan actually will decrease storm water runoff by shifting the area where the water will collect.
“I know you’ve got experts, but I’ve got experts too, and my engineer is considered the best in the area,” he said, referring to Eero Hedefine.
The planning board listened to both sides and agreed that a third party should assess the storm water concerns on site. That review will be done by an outside engineer contracted by the city’s planning office but will be paid for by the Belches.
The planning board tabled the Belches’ plan pending that review.
The Belches have met with criticism since they announced plans to develop their property on Main Street.
When they bought the land in 2002, they applied for a permit to convert a single-family residence on the property into three apartments.
That permit was issued in error and when the Belches decided they wanted to develop further, they were required to get the planning board’s approval after the fact.
That approval was granted in June, paving the way for the Belches’ additional development.
A group of residents challenged the planning board’s initial decision both through the city’s board of appeals and through a civil lawsuit filed in Hancock County Superior Court.
The board of appeals did not grant an appeal, but the civil suit is still pending.