Effingham—August 13, 2023—It has long been known that Conway developer Meena LLC started building a gas station without an approved site plan at the former Boyle’s Market in Effingham two years ago because it didn’t want to have to reschedule the contractors it had lined up for the work.
Now it appears the developer also had a green light from the Select Board. That’s according to the board chair at the time, Michael Cahalane, who spoke at a special Planning Board hearing on the matter last week.
Cahalane said he and fellow board members Thomas Hart and Charles Fuller were in agreement to allow the construction to start before the Planning Board reviewed the site plan application.
The approval does not appear in the Select Board’s 2021 meeting minutes, or in the ZBA minutes documenting the contentious hearings on the construction that took place during that summer. Cahalane was a ZBA member at the time.
The issue of the Select Board’s involvement in the construction was raised by Item 12 of the “Findings of Fact” document that is the basis of the Planning Board’s July 11 conditional approval of the developer’s Site Plan Application for a gas station.
Item 12 states that the applicant began installation work “in the spring of 2021 with the Town’s Board of Selectmen’s approval.”
The statement appeared to catch the current Select Board by surprise. After a review of the 2021 meeting minutes, the board told Planning Board Chair George Bull the statement could not be corroborated. Bull put the matter on the agenda for a special public hearing on August 7.
After a brief preamble at the meeting, Bull said that since there was no evidence that the statement was correct, he recommended that it be stricken from the Findings of Fact. But Cahalane, who is an alternate member of the Planning Board, interceded to say the statement was accurate.
“I said that,” Cahalane responded after board member Gary Jewel asked if anyone knew who made the claim. Cahalane went on to say there was “supposed to be something in writing that the tanks were going to be allowed to go in.”
“So, like George said, if the town office can’t produce the document, then that’s unfortunate and you have no choice but to take it out,” Cahalane said.
Matthew Johnson, attorney for the developer, spoke to ask that Item 12 remain in the document as written, pointing to Cahalane’s statement confirming its accuracy, and saying it helped explain his client’s actions.
“I do think based on Mike’s testimony the Board of Selectmen did approve it,” Johnson said, adding that “at a minimum, they had knowledge of it.”
Johnson said that his client had been unfairly criticized because of the construction work, and setting the record straight mattered because it would “clear the air and treat my client fairly.”
After Planning Board member Elaine Chick suggested editing Item 12 to say that the Select Board was “aware” of the work rather than had “authorized” it, Cahalane spoke again.
“I wouldn’t be so stuck on this except his [Johnson’s] client has gotten beaten up,” Cahalane said, referring to negative press the developer has received in the media.
“To that end, for the applicant’s benefit, if your board is comfortable with putting in ‘with knowledge,’ I think something like that would be appropriate.”
On a 5-2 vote, the Planning Board changed the word “approval” to “knowledge” in Item 12.
Chris Seamans, the Select Board’s representative to the Planning Board, and Planning Board alternate member Linda Edwards voted against the change.