ROCKLAND, Maine — Voters on Tuesday are expected to decide the fate of a conditional zoning amendment that would determine whether Walgreens Pharmacy builds a store at a busy corner in the city.
A residents’ petition seeking repeal through a referendum had challenged the amendment, designed to allow Walgreens to build an 11,500-square-foot drugstore at the intersection of Routes 1 and 17.
The petition effort, initiated in August by a group of 19 residents, was successful and the City Council set a date for the referendum.
The polls at the community building will be open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 16. Absentee ballots are available at City Hall from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., said City Clerk Stuart Sylvester Thursday. So far, 340 residents have cast absentee ballots, he added.
Altogether, 831 residents, representing 30 percent of the local turnout in the last gubernatorial election, have to vote in the special election to make it valid, he said.
A yes vote would repeal the ordinance. A no vote would allow the ordinance to go forward.
If voters approve the repeal, Walgreens may not apply for another zoning change at the site for five years, according to City Attorney Kevin Beal.
The national retail pharmacy has been interested in the location for the past two years, but has faced protracted opposition from residents in the neighborhood bordering the store and rejections from the planning board and the conservation planning committee.
Proponents of the pharmacy have said a company like Walgreens would have an overall positive effect on local business and would fill a corner in danger of deteriorating with already empty stores.
Last week, WAG Pharm Development LLC, the developer for the Walgreens project, mailed city residents a card advocating a no vote to support economic development.
The card touted a promise of 25 new jobs, $45,000 in tax revenues and $700,000 in traffic improvements at no cost to taxpayers.
Although the company has offered to pay $700,000 to make traffic improvements at the corner of Maverick Street and Route 1 and at the corner of Waldo Avenue and Route 1, one member of the planning board said Walgreens’ monetary offer is irrelevant. Planners would require the company to make those improvements any-way. If the repeal fails next Tuesday, Walgreens still has to be approved by the planning board.
The developer’s mailer included endorsements by City Councilors Eric Hebert and Brian Harden from the Aug. 11 City Council meeting; former City Manager Tom Hall, quoted from a Sept. 18 newspaper article; and local business owner Frank Isganitis, quoted from a Sept. 18 newspaper article.
Opponents in a 45-minute comment period had an opportunity to speak out at Monday night’s City Council meeting.
Jefferson Street resident Brian Fuller said the reason for voting yes on the issue is that “everyone’s zoning in the city is at stake.”
He said city officials have shown a lack of respect for zoning and put everyone’s homes in jeopardy.
“I don’t know why three city councilors [Brian Harden, Tom Molloy and Eric Hebert], after a year and a half of meetings have voted for this change,” Fuller said, adding that the majority of residents over the past year and a half have been opposed to the change.
“The quality of my neighborhood is important to me,” said Olive Pierce. “I think I can speak for a lot of other people when I say, ‘We do not need Walgreens at this particular location,’” she said. “We do not want Walgreens, and it will not improve the quality of our lives. It will worsen the quality of our lives.
“We intend to vote to repeal the change in zoning that would make this disaster possible,” Pierce said.
Resident Maggie Trout pointed out that Greensboro, N.C., had defeated a similar zoning measure to stop Walgreens.
Pleasant Street resident Debbie Atwell said no homeowner in the city is safe as long as the City Council can take away the protection of residents’ zones.
At the end of the meeting Councilor Brian Harden took umbrage at the language used by the protestors, calling their words “inflammatory.”
He cited by comparison a civil exchange between Councilors Tom Molloy and Elizabeth Dickerson, who was one of the original 19 petitioners opposing Walgreens.