Faced with the imminent demolition of a historic garage recently taken by eminent domain, the town of Wiscasset on Wednesday asked a superior court judge to grant a restraining order and permanently stop a $5 million state project designed to ease Route 1 traffic congestion.
The state plan, which comes after more than half a century of failed efforts to ease summer traffic through downtown Wiscasset, calls for eliminating Main Street parking and demolishing the Haggett Garage on Water Street. The Maine Department of Transportation plan, designed to alleviate summer traffic bottlenecks, would widen sidewalks by eliminating on-street parking on Main Street.
According to a letter Wednesday from Portland attorney John B. Shumadine, who represents the town, the two parties have agreed to transfer the matter to business court, which has scheduled a hearing on the motion for the temporary restraining order for 1 p.m. Thursday.
Along with other proposed parking and road changes, the MDOT has taken the 102-year-old Haggett Garage on Water Street by eminent domain and now proposes to use the lot for parking. According to the complaint, the state has already finalized contract bid documents to demolish the garage.
The town’s request for a temporary restraining order states that the MDOT intends to begin demolishing the Haggett Garage on Monday, Dec. 4.
But opponents of the plan say the state misled voters about two proposals prior to a June 2016 vote that endorsed the plan, and say that the state has “materially changed its plans for the project” since that vote, according to the complaint.
Among those changes, the state turned down $4 million in federal funding, which opponents say was done in order to skirt historic preservation ordinances.
“MDOT has announced that it does not intend to seek any permits from the town of Wiscasset of any of its agencies in connection with the project, including the proposed demolition,” the complaint states.
The complaint argues that the state is moving ahead despite a Nov. 7 vote by the Wiscasset board of selectmen to file a petition in superior court seeking to order MDOT to comply with all town and state laws and regulations.
The complaint charges MDOT with failing to comply with its obligation to take into consideration the interests of a municipality regarding the location of any state or state-aid highway construction, breaching its letter of intent with the town stating it would execute a municipal-state project agreement prior to finalizing contract bid documents, failing to comply with the town’s historic preservation ordinance.
“In the face of growing concern about the downtown viability without on street parking and the uncertainty of MDOT’s willingness to honor the town’s ordinance process, the town of Wiscasset filed a complaint today in Lincoln County Superior Court,” Town Manager Marian Anderson wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon. “We look forward to continuing to work positively with MDOT to resolve the issues.”
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot wrote that the department is disappointed that the town has filed suit, “despite overwhelming public support for the project design concept in a referendum vote just last year.”
“The department recently met with town representatives and was continuing to work in good faith to address public concerns about certain project features when it was told of the lawsuit,” Talbot wrote, adding that the two parties are working on an agreement “to temporarily defer the demolition of the structure.”
“In the meantime, the department continues to plan and design this important regional transportation project,” he said.
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