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Zoning appeal of new gun store faults approval procedures

By Susan Mustapich | Mar 02, 2021

LINCOLNVILLE — Before power and internet went out because of high winds in Lincolnville March 1, both sides had their say during an appeals hearing over whether abutters and neighbors were properly notified of a Planning Board meeting at which a new gun shop was approved.

The meeting was conducted over Zoom Videoconferencing, and several Zoning Board of Appeals members lost their internet connections.

The board was to continue the meeting Wednesday, March 3, at 7 p.m. It had closed the public hearing prior to the power outage, and begun deliberations.

Pat Shannon and TJ Mack are appealing the Planning Board's approval of Garo Armen's Guns & Roses shop on the basis that both he and the Planning Board did not follow procedures required by town ordinance.

The business on Armen's Van Cycle Road property sells firearms geared to higher-end customers, and sells ammunition, according to the commercial site plan application. Sales are by appointment only, with the possibility of offering limited hours on Saturdays. Two existing buildings used for the shop are a 600-square-foot showroom and 350-square-foot safe room. There is small gun range on the property for personal use.

The property was originally Kelmscott Farm, owned by ethernet co-inventor and internet pioneer Bob Metcalf. Armen is chairman and chief executive officer of Agenus Inc. and a philanthropist.

Shannon and Mack live on a neighboring property and did not receive notice from Armen, required by town ordinance, 14 days prior to a Dec. 9 meeting where the commercial site plan was approved.

Notice is required to be sent by certified mail, and the applicant is required to show proof of all the notices sent to the Planning Board. Shannon and Mack received notice by Federal Express, the day after the meeting. It was delivered to their home on Dec. 9, but they were not there.

Shannon and Mack found out about the meeting Dec. 8, but were not allowed to submit comments in writing or speak at the meeting, because the time to arrange to do that had expired.

In addition, Shannon and Mack listed irregularities in the Planning Board's actions on Armen's plan at a Nov. 12 meeting.

The Planning Board agenda stated there would be a pre-application discussion of Armen's commercial site plan for the selling of firearms. However, the board conducted a preliminary review of the application, which requires notices to the public and abutters.

Mack pointed out that no public notice or notice to abutters was issued.

Minutes from the Nov. 12 meeting, supplied by Shannon and Mack, state that a pre-application discussion was supposed to take place, but the board voted to proceed with preliminary review.

The board voted to review the application for completeness. After going through the application, the board voted that it was complete.

Shannon and Mack also objected to a Planning Board member recusing himself from the Nov. 12 review, and then participating in voting on the application Dec. 9.

They requested that Planning Board approval of Guns & Roses be revoked, and the application review be started over again, with public notice and notification by certified mail to all owners of abutting property and those within 500 feet of the Armen property.

Amber Hanson, representing Armen, said they had worked closely with Code Officer Frank Therio prior to the Nov. 12 meeting. She said Armen's list of abutters was reviewed and the understanding was that notice to abutters was not needed for the pre-application meeting. When made aware that Shannon and Mack required notice before the Dec. 9 meeting, they sent the notice by Federal Express Dec. 8, she said.

During a rebuttal period, Hanson said that whatever the Zoning Board decided, they would provide communication to Shannon and Mack.

It was clear to Zoning Board member Andy Young that Shannon and Mack's property is within 500 feet of Armen's property. Other property owners seem to have been left off the abutter list, he said.

Zoning Board Chairman Betty Johnson asked Town Attorney Sally Daggett for clarification. Daggett agreed with Young that Shannon and Mack should have received notification by certified mail, return receipt requested, of the Planning Board meetings.

Johnson said the ordinance is clear that Armen is responsible for determining the correct abutter list, and this was not a town staff responsibility.

At the beginning of the meeting, Johnson asked if Planning Board members or Therio were present at the meeting. She thought the chairman would be there to defend the board's decision, she said.

Planning Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Eudy was present at the meeting.

Daggett said there was nothing to prevent Zoning Board members from asking Eudy questions, or allowing members of the public to speak.

Board members discussed whether the commercial site plan was a minor or major project. There was some confusion over the application, though a couple of members viewed it as a minor project.

Eudy responded to that question, stating she could not recall, and Therio decides. She recalled that the Planning Board thought Armen's application was very thorough. She is new to the Planning Board and not experienced, she said, and indicated to Daggett that she is looking forward to training that has been scheduled.

The board closed the public hearing just before the power went out. Young was attending from a worksite outside the town, and remained in the meeting. While two more members were able to rejoin the meeting, one with no power in the home, Daggett said the meeting would need to be continued, because not all members rejoined, and there was a question as to whether the meeting was still being recorded.

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