2018-06-08 / Front Page

Public safety plan amended

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

The Scarborough Planning Board has issued an advisory opinion on the new $21.5 million public safety building, to go in next to town hall on Route 1. That opinion did not appear to satisfy many of the 40- plus people in attendance at the June 4 meeting.

Concern was expressed early on for just what was expected at the meeting.

“I’m just wondering, what do you want our opinion on?” planning board member Robyn Saunders asked.

Kylie Mason, a landscape architect from South Portland civil engineering form Sebago Technics, said the expectation was for what amounts to a site plan review — but not a full, actual site plan review, as the municipality is exempt from many of its own rules.

“We have some concerns and we have some things we would like to see addressed and have everyone be sensitive to, but are generally are in favor of this,” Planning Board Chairman Cory Fellows said. “But this advisory opinion is not a vote, per se. There is no mandate coming from this board. And, so, the opinion is really the collective comments of this board.

“This (meeting) is all on record and it will all be taken into consideration,” Fellows said. “Whether anything ultimately changes or not, we don’t know.”

According to Mason, Sebago has made one fairly significant change to the layout for the new building, based on previous public feedback.

There will be a public parking lot shared with town hall, she said, and a staff parking lot on the opposite side of the building accessed via Durant Drive. But the road by which emergency vehicles will depart the building, exiting onto Sawyer Street, will now be one-way, she said, with the road hugged as close to the buildings along Route 1. That, Mason said, will give “maximum room” for Memorial Park.

Previous plans have shown the driveway appearing to almost bisect the park. But even with the modification, some were still not happy.

“I certainly didn’t vote for a road to go through a public park where my child plays, where I go with my dog, where everyone goes, to now introduce a new element of risk and danger,” Serenity Drive resident Alex Webber said.

Jack Fay, of Mulberry Drive, said the best thing for all concerned would be for police cruisers and fire trucks to exit directly onto Route 1, given that the town controls traffic lights on either side of the new station.

Fay also questioned if the plan will meet muster with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

“I don’t know if the DEP has approved this or not, but I’d be really surprised,” he said.

Mason said the plan, including the road construction through Memorial Park, is currently under review by the DEP.

But Webber urged planners to ask for a full, “formal” study, to determine the quantitative data on Route 1 traffic and the appropriateness, or not, of putting the fire truck exit on Sawyer Road, rather than directly onto the main drag.

Although Webber said he sympathized with police and fire personally, understandably gun-shy after decades of dealing with traffic at the Oak Hill intersection, such major decisions should not be made on anecdotal evidence and gut feeling.

But Webber went one further, suggesting the entire concept plan for the project should not back to the voters.

Those voters agreed to fund the new 53,000-square-foot building by authorizing a $19.5 million bond, in a Nov. 5 vote that fell 3,466-3,000.

Webber pointed out that the referendum was for the bond only. The vote should not be construed as approval of any particular plan, he said.

“There’s nobody I’ve talked to who says they would have voted for this, knowing the (exit) road would go through the park,” Ken Johnson said after the meeting.

“The building, I have no issue with,” Johnson said. “Our first responders definitely needed a new building. What happened though is the location of the building and this strategy of exiting into Memorial Park. It’s just been a very surprising thing, especially when there are just so many other options for them to exit the building onto Route 1.”

The current public safety building, erected in 1999, is about the size of the proposed building. The new structure was Designed by Context Architecture of Boston and has been modeled to accommodate community and staffing growth through 2041.

In addition to the approved bond, officials plan to pay for the new site using $625,000 in reserved funds and an expected $1.4 million from the future sale of the current station.

The town has conducted about 15 community forums leading up to the latest planning board meeting. However, some have drawn no member of the public, with others serving just one or two who showed.

“I’ll give them a B-plus for effort, but a zero for results,” Johnson said of the public outreach.

In the end, while Johnson said his personal dealings with town officials have been only positive as he has sought answers and lobbied to keep the road out of the park, he also noted that there has been no lack of animosity of late in Scarborough, given votes on budgets and school board members.

The same ill-will could easily spill over the affect the public safety building, he predicted.

“If the town manager thinks there was quite a stir about the superintendent, I think he is going to have a rude awakening when an excavator enters Municipal Park in an election year,” he said.

The anticipated 18-month construction job is expected to break ground this summer and wind up in time for a grand opening in late 2019 or early 2020.

 news@scarboroughleader.com

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