Mano en Mano project goes to planning board

Posted May 19, 2009, at 9:43 p.m.

MILBRIDGE, Maine — Despite the possibility of a six-month moratorium on multiple-family building projects, Mano en Mano will take its plan for a six-unit apartment building to the town’s planning board Thursday.

“Even though we’ve met with the board several times, under the ordinance this will be our preliminary plan meeting with the board,” said Anais Tomezscko, the organization’s executive director.

The project will be on the agenda for the planning board’s regular meeting which will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 21, at the town hall. An informational meeting on the project has been scheduled for 7 o’clock tonight, also at the town hall.

A special town meeting last week to consider the moratorium began and ended without discussion of the proposal, according to Town Manager Lewis Pinkham. He said attorneys from Mano en Mano had objected to the way the warrant for the town meeting had been prepared.

The selectmen had met in April and decided to support a petition seeking the moratorium. But according to Ed Bearor, a Bangor attorney representing Mano en Mano, the selectmen did not follow proper steps for calling a special town meeting.

“Signing the warrant [for a special town meeting] is a public procedure,” he said. “They didn’t hold a meeting.”

Although the selectmen had discussed the moratorium in a public meeting, Pinkham said, they had not signed the warrant at a public meeting.

“The selectmen chose a date, a time and a place,” Pinkham said. “There was only the one item and they told me to draw it up and they came in the next day to sign it. Technically, they were supposed to sign it at the meeting.”

After consulting the town’s attorney, the selectmen decided to reschedule the meeting to consider the moratorium.

The selectmen have rescheduled the special town meeting for June 16.

If approved, Pinkham said, the moratorium would be retroactive to April 8, when the selectmen voted to support the measure.

“The selectmen chose to have the moratorium before we received an application,” he said. “Under our ordinance, it can be grandfathered back to that date.”

The moratorium would give the town time to develop appropriate ordinances for this type of project, according to town officials.

There has been a lot of interest in the project — both pro and con — since the proposal became public earlier this year.

Officials from Mano en Mano — which translates into “Hand in Hand” — have said the project is necessary to house farm workers and their families who already live in the area. Many of those workers, who are largely Hispanic, have immigrated to the area to work in the blueberry, fish processing and wreathmaking operations in the area.

Mano en Mano estimated that of the 600 Hispanic residents living in Washington County, between 100 and 150 live in Milbridge. The apartments would not be available for migrant workers who stay in the area for just one harvest season and then move on.

Existing housing for those workers, they’ve said, is crowded and substandard.

Opponents of the project have expressed concerns about the proposed site of the project, a 5-acre parcel on Wyman Road. They’ve said that the site is on a curve in the road that could create a danger for vehicles entering and exiting the site and that the project’s well and septic system could have an adverse effect on the area’s groundwater.

Opponents also have noted that Mano en Mano is a nonprofit organization and will not pay taxes on the new building and have suggested it will place a burden on the town’s local municipal services.

Although the process has taken longer than anticipated, Tomezscko said, they still hoped to break ground for the project before winter.

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