March 21, 2018
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Despite controversy, planning board agrees to allow day care, preschool in historic Belfast home

Abigail Curtis | BDN
Abigail Curtis | BDN
Neighbors are fighting back against a proposal to install a preschool in the 1812 Admiral Pratt House on High Street in Belfast.
By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

BELFAST, Maine — Decisions have been made for a controversial change-of-use permit that would allow a woman to turn the ground floor of a historic home into a preschool and day care, according to Belfast Planning Board Chair Diane Allmayer-Beck.

Applicant Iris Hooper has been before the board three times and will make her fourth and final appearance at 7 p.m. Wednesday night, according to the chair. This week’s regular meeting will not include a public hearing on the change-of-use request for the 1812 Admiral Pratt House in the Primrose Hill neighborhood downtown. The board members expect to sign a findings of fact document based on previously made decisions regarding the permit, Allmayer-Beck said Monday.

“We’ve already made all the decisions. There will be no more decisions,” she said.

Board members have found that Hooper’s intended use is allowed, according to the city’s zoning ordinances. The board also examined stormwater, road placement, parking, lighting, placement of the Dumpster, fencing and gates for the stairs to ensure safety.

Some neighbors have testified against the permit in all three of the hearings, she said.

“We certainly have tried to address the concerns that were brought up, by many of the neighbors, in as far as they’re in the purview of the planning board,” Allmayer-Beck said.

Before the school can go forward, Hooper will need to obtain licenses from state agencies including the Maine Department of Human Health and Services, according to Belfast Assistant City Planner James Francomano.

She also will be required to go before the Intown Design Review Committee before making any changes to the building, said Allmayer-Beck.

“It is mandatory that they go. It is not mandatory that they do what the Intown Design Review Committee suggests,” she said.

Neighbors opposing the project include Terrance Smith, who spoke to the Bangor Daily News this summer about the changes. He called the property a historically significant community jewel and said its use as a school and day care would be problematic.

“It’s going to really be, in my opinion, in jeopardy of destruction. That’s something I don’t want to see,” Smith said in July.

He wrote a letter to the editor in last week’s The Republican Journal weekly newspaper urging all those opposed to come to the Wednesday night planning board meeting.

“Maybe by a show of strength in numbers we may finally be heard, even though we will not be allowed to speak,” Smith wrote.

Allmayer-Beck said that this project is among the city’s more controversial in recent years, in large part because it is a historic building.

“The property is a very nice property and has given the neighbors a nice borrowed view,” she said. “They hate to lose that. But unfortunately, the planning board cannot protect private views.”

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