Frustration erupts over lack of detail in controversial Gardiner housing development plan

·5 min read

Oct. 13—GARDINER — Nearly 16 months after a plan to redevelop the former MaineGeneral property on Dresden Avenue was first publicly introduced as a conceptual plan, the Planning Board is no closer to rendering a decision on the controversial residential development.

Frustrated board members vented Tuesday that even after multiple attempts to get more information on the project, they still don't have a complete application to vote on and don't even fully understand what's being proposed for the property.

Developer Paul Boghossian was expected to bring information on two items needed for the Gardiner Planning Board to find he has met all the requirements for completing one of two applications for the work he's proposing at 150-152 Dresden Ave. His plans would convert the former home of Gardiner Family Medicine into what he's calling a pocket neighborhood, consisting of apartments, condominium units and open space.

Boghossian brought information on only one of the items required for the subdivision application to Tuesday's Planning Board meeting. He also brought a new document, a recording plat, which is a subdivision map, for the board and audience to look at. He also announced that his limited liability company closed on the purchase of the property Tuesday.

As board members were considering the information that had been provided, Logan Johnston, a former city councilor and former Planning Board chairman, interrupted the discussion.

"Point of order, madam chair," he said. "Why do you keep working the problem for this applicant? It is up the applicant and city staff to present a proposal that the public can then respond to, instead of working the problem. You have regularly been doing it for more than a year, and that's not fair."

Debby Willis, chairwoman of the board, said what the board has been trying to do is have an application that reflects what is supposed to happen on the property so the board can apply Gardiner's ordinance to the application and take action.

"I still don't know what this application is," Willis said.

When she reviewed the materials that have been submitted to date, she said (indicating two expandable folders stuffed full of documents) that the theme carrying through the application has been the board's attempts to figure out what Boghossian wants to do.

"You don't tell us. You don't listen to us," Willis said. "We gave you two simple things to do, and you failed to do 50% of what we asked you to do, which wasn't particularly difficult and should not have cost you any money."

"May I address the board?" Boghossian asked.

"When I am done, you can address the board," she said. "Why can't you give us a completed application? We deserve better. Why can't you give us a completed application? Why can't you listen to us?"

Boghossian, a notable developer in the region who helped launch the Hathaway Creative Center in Waterville, apologized to the board and said he thought his obligation would be covered by adding information about a private hauler to the site plan review application.

"Where is it in the subdivision application? " Willis said. "We sent you away to add two things to the subdivision application."

"I apologize that I missed it," he said, adding there were a number of requests that came out of a prior meeting, adding that it was not done with any intent or malice.

While a number of components of the subdivision and site plan review applications are the same, including the physical features of the lot and how the property will be used, the site plan review application requires additional information about the buildings on the site.

Tracey Desjardins, Gardiner's economic development director, said the information in the subdivision plan and the site plan has to be the same.

"It has to link together," she said. "You can't have one be different from the other one."

Phyllis Gardiner, who lives near the proposed development site, said it's been frustrating to track back through all of the iterations of the documents to understand what's in the application now. She suggested creating a spot on the city's website to post all the final documents to be considered at a public hearing.

Ian Burns, a former Planning Board member and neighbor of the project, suggested setting a procedural schedule that includes submission deadlines for files needed to close the application before a public hearing takes place.

The initial application, which has since been withdrawn, outlined a three-phase $6.6 million project that would add 68 residential units to a site of about 5 acres, redeveloping the existing hospital building into apartments and renovating other buildings and adding new construction for condominium units.

The project was met with immediate and near-uniform opposition from residents in the Dresden Avenue area. Residents have protested the changes, saying that such a development in their established residential neighborhood would bring higher traffic counts on a residential street and a higher concentration of residents on a street where only two houses are multi-unit dwellings.

The property is located in the city's high-density residential zone, which would allow such a development to take place, but that development is subject to the city's performance standards.

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