Key Questions As Meena Review Continues

Effingham—July 5, 2022—In May, Effingham’s Planning Board continued the Meena LLC gas station hearing for two months to allow time for the company’s agent, Mark McConkey, to address errors and omissions identified in a professional independent review of his Site Plan Application for the development.

But the revised materials will be just one of a number of issues facing the board this Thursday, July 7, when the hearings continue. Some issues are new, and some have been festering since last year.

One of the festering issues is McConkey’s request that the Planning Board waive the Site Plan Application’s professional qualifications requirement for himself.

The town’s Site Plan Application document lists Engineer, Land Surveyor and Architect as the options in the professional qualifications section. Each of the four Meena Site Plan Applications that McConkey submitted to Effingham between March and December last year includes the statement “Waiver Requested for McConkey” in the qualifications section.

The website for McConkey’s business, McConkey Construction, lists the company’s two services as building “Redi-Rock” retaining walls and designing and installing septic systems. McConkey, who is also a State Representative, further cites project management and arranging for building and zoning permits as client services.

Planning Board meeting minutes indicate McConkey’s waiver request has never been voted on, including in February when the board ruled the Site Plan Application was administratively complete.

After Parsonsfield Planning Board member Andy Yale raised the waiver issue with the Effingham board at its April 7 meeting, Chairwoman Theresa Swanick responded simply that the board is aware of the waiver request and has not voted on it.

Multi-Town Petition
The Planning Board will also face a new issue on July 7. Ossipee Lake Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation Group plan to present a petition signed by more than 600 property owners and municipal officials from eight towns with abutter status. The petition asks Effingham to commit to a more complete independent professional review of the Meena proposal.

Acting on a recommendation by Lakes Region Planning Commission for a third-party review, the Effingham board in April hired North Point Engineering of Concord for a professional assessment of the Site Plan Application, but limited the scope to just two parts of the 80-page document.

Three weeks ago, the conservation groups posted an online petition saying limiting the scope of the review was inconsistent with the vote the Planning Board took on April 7, per meeting minutes and the Zoom video. They said the public deserved to have “the highest standards” applied to an independent review of the entire application, not just part of it, both in its current form and in revisions.

Special Use Permit
Then there is question of the Special Use Permit. In its April 26 report to the town, North Point Engineering said Meena needs to apply for a permit per Article 22, Section 2208 of the Groundwater Protection Ordinance, which grants the Planning Board authority over the “storage, handling, and use of regulated substances in quantities exceeding 100 gallons.”

A Special Use Permit, if granted, would require Meena to comply with a list of defined Performance Standards, identify “stormwater infiltration practices and depths to the average seasonal high-water table,” and provide a “narrative description of maintenance requirements that shall be recorded at the registry of deeds,” among other provisions.

Meena attorney Matthew Johnson quickly objected to the need for such a permit, calling North Point’s conclusion “legally incorrect.”

In a written brief to the board, Johnson said a Special Use Permit applies to a use that is otherwise permitted in the underlying district provided that it is not a prohibited use. But since gas stations are prohibited, and since Meena LLC obtained a variance for the otherwise prohibited use, the special use process is inapplicable, he concluded.

In response, Attorney Biron Bedard, representing Ossipee residents abutting the Meena property, said Johnson’s argument is “precisely the reason” that Meena needs to obtain a Special Use Permit.

Bedard said that when Meena LLC obtained a variance for the site, it effectively turned a prohibited use into a permitted use, which made it subject to Section 2208.

“If Meena wanted to be absolved of the requirement to obtain a special use permit, they should have sought a variance from the Special Use Permit requirement,” he concluded.

Professor Bob Newton
Will the Planning Board invite Smith College Geoscientist Dr. Robert Newton to make a presentation about the Ossipee Aquifer and the Meena property? It’s a question that has been pending since January.

Newton, who has studied the Aquifer for more than 50 years, posted an online video this year calling the Meena property the “worst possible location” for a gas station because its highly-transmissive soils were made even more susceptible to pollutants by years of gravel mining at the site.

The video has been viewed more than 900 times and was cited in evaluations of the Site Plan Application by officials of several abutting communities, most especially Freedom, which quoted from it extensively in its eight-page evaluation of the development.

In letters to the Planning Board in January and March, Newton outlined his concerns and asked for time to brief the board at one of its public meetings. After his letters went unanswered, Ossipee Lake Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation Group made the same request on Newton’s behalf on June 27.

The Meena LLC hearing begins at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 7, in Effingham Town Hall. Zoom access must be requested in advance of the meeting at this link.

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