Abutting residential and business zones lead to strife
Rockport — Some people crave the hustle and bustle of a busy, well-lit road while others prefer the quiet darkness of a wooded property — an issue that rises to the top when a business zone abuts a residential one.
Many businesses and residences do not have an issue regarding their property line but sometimes an issue develops after several years or is heightened by one trigger event. Such is the case with Mary Orear, a resident of Forest Glen Drive in Rockport. Her home, built as part of a subdivision in the late 1970s, is abutted by the commercially-zoned property of Lorraine Construction, with frontage on Route 90 across from Camden Hills Regional High School.
Nearly two years ago, Orear approached town officials with concerns regarding noise, light and buffering; but as of last week, her fight has ceased. Speaking from her home Dec. 3, Orear shuffled paperwork consisting of correspondence between herself and town officials she has collected during the process while explaining the events of the past 20 months.
Her initial complaint letter to the town, drafted March 9, 2011, cited “an extremely bright light” shining “directly into my adjacent property,” in addition to inadequate buffering and noise produced by trucks as early as 5 a.m.
“I was surrounded by woods and it was lovely,” Orear said, pointing out she has arranged her living room furniture so she doesn't look in the direction of Lorraine Construction through three nearly floor-to-ceiling windows facing the neighboring property.
She said she's never approached Lorraine Construction owner Marc Lorraine with her concerns, opting instead to attempt to have the town enforce ordinances.
“I don't feel I would get much of a positive response [from Lorraine],” she said. “Based on the lack of sensitivity toward the impact of his actions on his neighbor.”
Rockport's ordinance states, in part, lighting with a “lumen output equal to or greater than a 200-watt mercury light shall not be directed toward the sky or adjacent to properties.” In her initial complaint, Orear said she did not know the strength of the light but that it “may be equal to or greater than a 200-watt mercury light.” The complaint also states there is not an adequate buffer in place to prevent “undesirable light from being directed beyond his lot line and onto my property.”
In response to concerns about lighting, Town Planner Tom Ford said Central Maine Power Company — after being determined the owner of the light — agreed to install a shield.
“Lighting can be a sensitive subject for people,” Ford said Nov. 29. “We feel that [Lorraine] made a good faith effort.”
Ford said the light is located in front of the office building, closer to Route 90 than Orear's house, which is about 320-feet away. He said the shield was installed in February.
“I didn't feel like it was a downward shielded light,” Orear said, adding she could not see a difference in the light after she was told the shielding was installed. “The town office tells me that CMP did come and shield the light but I have serious doubts it was done.”
She said if a proper buffer had been maintained, the light would not be an issue. Walking her property line — which she's marked with yellow flagging tape — she pointed to a toppled evergreen tree leaning across some smaller shrubbery.
“In the last storm, two big trees blew down, so there's less [buffer]” Orear said. “I'm concerned about a year-round buffer.”
Ford said site visits to Orear's property in February, March, May, June, September and October showed a mix of hardwood and softwood trees between the two properties. He said the planning board has “used naturally occurring vegetation” as an acceptable buffer in many instances.
“We've determined there is an adequate buffer,” Ford said.
Code Enforcement Officer Scott Bickford added a buffer and screening are not the same thing.
“You wouldn't even know there is a business next door,” he said.
Orear said she received a copy of the letter sent to Lorraine Construction Oct. 22 with a final determination by Bickford. The letter states there were no violations of town ordinances and specifically addressed lighting, noise and buffering concerns brought up by Orear. In closing the letter states, “This letter is acknowledgment that the Code Enforcement Officer believes you have successfully addressed the issues that were raised by your neighbor. Thank you for your attention and cooperation on these issues.”
Orear said she has noticed a few small changes, such as removal of some rotting cord wood stored on the property, trucks parking in front of the office building rather than near the garage and some discarded appliances were removed. She had previously raised concerns with the town about discarded appliances in addition to a large boat being stored on the property for a number of years, near the garage that was built in 2005. The boat remained on the property as of Dec. 3.
“There are no restrictions in the ordinance on a residence or a business having a boat,” Ford said. “Everyone in Rockport can have a boat.”
Orear said her larger concern is not the boat being stored on the property, but the driveway and parking area by the garage that seemed to have been expanded without a permit.
A lean-to on the side of the garage was granted a building permit earlier this year, according to town records. In permits for the Lorraine property issued since 2005, when the garage and original access road were approved, there are no limitations or specifications regarding the width of the access road off Forest Glen Drive or allowed size of the parking area in front of the garage. A gridded page intended for a sketch of the garage and access road as part of the 2005 building permit was blank; however, separate drawings including measurements for the garage and a rough sketch of the access road without measurements were included in the application. On the building permit for the garage, several requirements are listed, the last being “maintain an underbrush buffer area between building and adjoining residence.” Planning board minutes show there was no public comment on the proposed garage and access road; it was unanimously approved.
Bickford said Nov. 29 the town has tried to work with both Orear and Lorraine.
“We can be sympathetic to the neighbor but she's gone to the extreme,” he said. “We had to follow the ordinance, that's the law.”
Orear was given the option to appeal the decision made by Bickford within 30 days. She said she went before Rockport selectmen to request additional time to appeal as well as a waiver or reduction of the $400 fee.
“They dismissed my request,” Orear said. “They said because I didn't submit any paperwork as to why I wanted the waiver.”
She said she had called Camden and Rockland to see what fee is charged in those towns and was told $100 and $150, respectively. Orear attempted to impress on the select board the cost imposed by Rockport is “exorbitant and prohibitive.”
“I felt the fee was out of line,” she said.
She said the time extension was not addressed. According to Ford, the 30-day limit is set by town ordinances and selectmen do not have the authority to extend it.
Orear said she does not plan to further pursue the issue and said she has been disappointed with her interactions with town officials.
“I'm just saying they don't seem to care,” she said.
Repeated attempts to contact Marc Lorraine by phone and email for comment were unsuccessful.
Courier Publications Associate Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.