Effingham—May 8, 2023—Effingham’s Planning Board last week approved a special hearing date to continue its consideration of the Meena LLC gas station application. The board will convene at 6:30 p.m. at the Elementary School, 6 Partridge Cove, on Wednesday, May 17.
The continuance to a later date was expected, as the board signaled its intent in advance of the meeting, which was attended by approximately 30 people at the Town Office. What was unexpected was that the meeting would end without a decision on which materials the board will be reviewing in order to rule on the merits of the application.
Meena has submitted hundreds of pages of documents since the Site Plan Application process began in September, 2021. That includes at least two sets of materials submitted this year, eight months past the board’s deadline for the developer to submit a final application.
The board set the cut-off date after Meena caused several scheduled hearings to be canceled when materials were submitted several days—and in one case several hours—before meetings were to be held.
The board had previously instructed the company to identify and remove extraneous, outdated and revised materials as new ones were submitted. That never happened, and the materials proliferated.
Planning Board Chair George Bull fielded questions about the submissions on Thursday night after Ossipee resident Rich Fahy asked how the public can know which documents comprise the official Site Plan Application and which materials are no longer relevant.
Former Ossipee Planning Board member Tim Otterbach pointed out that municipal officials in the ten towns affected by Meena’s Development of Regional Impact face the same challenge.
Bull said he was frustrated by the situation and was committed to having a better process, but he did not offer a timeline for doing so. He said the board’s digital Dropbox account contains the application information and related documents, but conceded “There is no master list.”
Asked about an agenda for the May 17 special meeting, Bull said simply “They are going to make a presentation at the hearing.”
“I don’t know exactly how they’re going to do that,” he added. “They haven’t told the board.”
Abandonment Issue Discussed
Another issue looming over the proceedings is Zoning Officer Rebecca Boyden’s April 20 ruling that Meena lost grandfathered status for its convenience store after keeping it closed for more than two years. Boyden’s letter to the developer instructed the company to include plans for the store in its gas station Site Plan Application.
At a Planning Board work session two weeks ago, Bull asked the Select Board to rescind Boyden’s letter, and offered his opinion that there was no abandonment, and the store was already part of the application.
Last week he appeared before the Select Board, solely as a town resident, he said, to ask about the letter. The board said the letter would be reviewed by Town Counsel.
At Thursday’s Planning Board meeting, Effingham resident Blair Folts asked Bull whether it was appropriate for him to be publicly commenting on an issue that will affect the Site Plan Application process.
In the ensuing discussion, Bull said his primary purpose in attending the Select Board meeting was to encourage the board to seek legal guidance.
The complications surrounding the Meena matter come as the Planning Board continues to adjust to an unusual level of turnover that began when long-time board member and former chair Theresa Swanick decided not to run for re-election in March, creating a vacancy for a three-year position.
Victoria Garceau won the position, running unopposed, but then declined to be seated. Shortly after the board filled her position with Planning Board alternate member Gary Jewell, board member David Garceau resigned, leaving one active member vacancy and two alternate openings.
Speaking last week, Board Chair Bull set a deadline of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 9, for those interested in applying. He said the board will review the applications at a special meeting for that purpose this Thursday, at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Office.