A York Harbor business owner is reevaluating his business after the Planning Board last week denied a lot division that would allow him to continue operating at its current location.
The Planning Board was asked to approve recent land transactions that would allow Josh Gammon to have 60,000 square feet of property in order to continue operating Gammon Lawn Care as a nonconforming use in a shoreland zone. Gammon purchased a small piece of land from Ron and Susan Peris and then swapped land with abutter Diane Marcuri to secure the necessary acreage. The board denied the application with three opposed and two in favor.
“We’re still trying to grapple with the result. Obviously, we knew that was a possibility, but it did come as a big surprise to both of us because we believed that we had met all of the legal requirements,” said Gammon’s attorney Matt Howell. “I think that this was a decision that was more politically and emotionally decided than decided by law. That’s my take.”
The board picked up its review of the application after a public hearing that began Oct. 12. The board did not complete its review on that date after it adjourned at 10:30 p.m. in the middle of the public hearing. Chairwoman Amy Phalon said in reconvening the public hearing Thursday that this “was not an ethical lapse,” but that the board’s policy is to end all meetings at 10:30 p.m., unless a majority of the board agrees the meeting should go on longer.
Phalon said the board received 85 pages of correspondence from the public relating to the application. Several letters, she said, were in support of Gammon, stating he is a good neighbor and businessman. The vast majority of letters, she said, were in opposition and raised concerns over the business operation, that it causes “dust, debris and toxic material” to invade the neighborhood, that noisy heavy equipment is used, and that it is a negative intrusion that disturbs the quality of life in the surrounding neighborhood.
In explaining her denial, Phalon said, she disagreed with piecing together lots to meet the requirements “in order to continue a nonconforming use. I really cannot get past that issue.”
Board member Gordon Eldridge said he didn’t think the application is in line with the spirit or purpose of the town ordinance. “I don’t know who to believe and who’s telling the truth and who is stretching the facts to suit their own purpose,” he said. “I don’t think that the sum of the parts is going to add up to the whole. I don’t know who to believe, frankly. Attorneys everywhere. Everybody’s got a different determination of everything. I’m not sophisticated enough to sort that out. I don’t like what’s been going on.”
Board member Peter Smith said, “It doesn’t pass the smell test for me. There’s so many bits and pieces that seem so contrived. Just to try and accomplish something that should have been done right in the beginning and it wasn’t. To me, it’s too late. It wasn’t done right, so move on. Change something if you can do something to change it that makes more sense.”
Howell said he reached out to Town Attorney Mary Costigan and Code Enforcement Officer Amber Harrison following the board’s decision. He said he and Gammon will “weigh whether or not it makes sense to appeal or whether or not it makes sense to just accept the hand that’s been dealt and try to relocate.” Howell said it’s a sad situation for a businessman trying to support a family.
“What I have a difficult time wrapping my head around, and I have from the very beginning is this business, Josh’s business, was merely stepping into the footsteps of another business that previously operated there,” Howell said. “I would totally get it if this landscaping business was abruptly plopped into the middle of a residential subdivision and that took people by surprise. But that’s not what happened. For the abutters, yes, there’s going to be less traffic and less noise and that’s great for them. But what it means for Josh and his family is pretty devastating, and if they feel OK at the end of the day with themselves, if that’s what wrecking someone’s life means to them if they have less noise, then they have to deal with that.”
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