A store that’s a mainstay in Hermon’s business community wants to expand, embracing the potential of a growing market in the Bangor area’s fastest growing community. But a group of neighbors has put up a roadblock, claiming the town’s Planning Board never should have approved the expansion of C&K Variety last month.
Three nearby residents whose land abuts the C&K property have appealed the board’s decision, which this week prompted the first meeting in years of Hermon’s Zoning Board of Appeals in a debate over the character of a town whose population grew nearly 20 percent in the last decade.
Tylor Perry has owned the C&K Variety in Hermon Corner for two years. But the store has been around for more than 100, with successive owners adding onto the structure in piecemeal fashion.
Now, Perry plans to build a new, larger 8,000-square-foot building behind the current structure, which he would then demolish. The new building would have a larger kitchen and a streamlined design. Perry would also add a gas station to the property, according to the site plan.
“At this point, it’s beginning to be like a Band-Aid over a Band-Aid. It’s becoming a hindrance,” Perry said of the original building. “We’re just trying to make this a better setup for the town of Hermon and give back.”
The Hermon Planning Board approved Perry’s plans last month, giving him clearance to start construction, which he estimated will cost $1.5 million to $2 million.
Yet some residents say an expanded store would be out of place in the community, hurt a local pond and harm nearby properties. It could even drive people away from Hermon, said Ernest Wheeler II, who has lived adjacent to the store on Billings Road for the past 28 years and is one of three residents who filed the appeal to the Planning Board’s decision.
“They don’t care about the neighbors. They don’t care about the trees. All they care about is that store,” Wheeler said.
The town’s Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday heard the objections raised by Wheeler and Bruce and Doris Rogerson, who live in the neighborhood behind the store. The trio say they represent about 30 neighbors. Ultimately, the board put off a decision until Tuesday.
“We’ve lost our moral fiber in this town,” Wheeler said Thursday. “The only thing that matters is the tax money. The residents don’t matter anymore, and that was proven last night.”
In their appeal, Wheeler and the Rogerson’s argue that a town ordinance doesn’t allow “fuel storage” in the Village Commercial District where the store is located, which would mean the gas station isn’t allowed. They also argue that the development would be too close to a pond, triggering a requirement for a special permit that C&K says isn’t needed. Plus, they say, the expanded store would add more traffic to the adjacent intersection at Billings Road and Route 2, making it more dangerous.
Sam Hamilton, Perry’s attorney, argued Wednesday that the town ordinance prohibiting fuel storage in the Village Commercial District applies only to industrial fuel storage, such as for trains and heavy equipment. The town allows gas stations in the district, he said, as there is already a gas station just down the road in the same district.
As for traffic, Perry said that his plan to locate the new building back from the road would improve visibility at the intersection, where C&K is located right on the corner. There have been about three dozen crashes at the intersection outside the store over the past 18 years, according to Maine Department of Transportation data.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Wheeler said he thinks Perry has a buyer waiting in the wings to swoop in once the work is done.
That couldn’t be further from the truth, Perry said.
“People are saying that I’m tearing down family houses, people are saying that I am selling, once I get this built, that I’ve already got a buyer and I’m dumping it off, which makes no sense,” Perry said. “I love the town of Hermon and I want to give back to them.”
But Wheeler, who grew up in Hermon, remains concerned, and he’s saddened by what his town and neighborhood have become.
“These residents are going to sell their houses because the magic that made Hermon a wonderful community is going to be taken right away from this neighborhood,” he said. “There won’t be any more birds, there won’t be any more deer, there won’t be any more little neighborhood kitty cats that come to your yard, because there’ll be a big giant store in the middle of the neighborhood.”
For Perry, the debate over his store’s expansion has turned into a headache. He never wanted things to rise to this level, he said.
Meanwhile, he can keep moving forward with the project, as the town hasn’t issued a stop order while the appeals board deliberates. But Perry said he isn’t sure at this point when work will start.