Dexter backs 2 zone changes for Abbott Hill property

Posted Oct. 05, 2012, at 3:11 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 05, 2012, at 3:54 p.m.

DEXTER, Maine — The Town Council has approved two zone changes that pave the way for a Corinna businessman to develop the 42-acre former Abbott Hill school property.

At a special meeting Sept. 25, the council unanimously approved recommendations made by the planning board for changes in land use and shoreland zoning ordinances for the property.

Gerry Marshall is best known for his business — Gerry’s Used Cars — which has sites in Corinna, Skowhegan, Veazie and Oakland. He purchased the property in December 2011 for $205,000. Marshall needed the zoning changes to advance his plans for the property.

Those plans include building four cabins, a lodge and a toboggan run on the west side of the lot near the lake. On the east side near Grove Street, he plans to build apartments. On top of the hill, he wants a campground with a swimming pool. Marshall would also like to turn the former school gym into a convention center and transform the former primary school section into an assisted-living center.

Besides changing the zone from residential to commercial, the new ordinance allows a campground with 3,000-square-foot sites, adds a commercial convention center definition and allows for the planning board to review the campground and convention center proposals.

The shoreland zone change allows development beyond 350 feet from the shoreland for sections of the Abbott Hill property with a slope of less than 20 percent. These portions will be designated as a limited commercial zone. Other sections with a slope greater than 20 percent will remain in resource protection.

Marshall said he believes his enterprise will be both an economic success for his family and the entire community. He estimated the development would be completed within five to seven years and have a $5 million property valuation. Marshall stated the project will bring in tax revenue to the town and create a strong cash flow for the struggling town water and sewer districts.

“If only a part of what I envision happens, it will still generate a considerable amount of cash flow for both the town and sewer and water districts,” Marshall said. “The apartments, lodge and residential sites all will need to be hooked up to town water and sewer. This will dramatically increase their cash flow during a time in which they could use more revenue.”

The Dexter Utility District and Dexter Lake Association both were agaubst the zone change, but only two people stated their opposition during the public hearing held before the vote. One was summer resident Karen Hartford-White, who attended all the planning board meetings leading up to council vote. She said she believed the large development project was too close to the shoreland and would negatively affect Wassookeag Lake’s water quality.

Hartford-White is a member of the Dexter Lake Association’s board of directors. She said both part-time and year-round lake residents had made their concerns known, but town officials seemingly weren’t listening to their arguments. She believed the council and planning board had favored the interests of one businessman over the lake’s camp owners.

“What I’m hearing is money matters and business matters. Just look at the impact all these camp owners have on the local economy. Whether these camp owners are part- or full-time residents, they provide the town will the largest percentage of property tax income. I call that a business, too,” said Hartford-White.

She reminded the council that the town always had stringent regulations protecting the lake, including ordinances prohibiting camp owners from raking the beach, planting a tree or cutting down a dead tree without permission.

Another zone change proposed by the developer, to allow campgrounds with no site dimensions, was scheduled to be voted on, but Marshall withdrew it.

The two zone changes will be reviewed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The planning board received advice from the DEP’s Bureau of Land and Water Quality shoreland zoning specialist Stephenie MacLagan. Code Enforcement Officer Jana Wood expects the DEP will approve the ordinance changes within the next 45 days.

The council will next meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, in the council chambers.

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