Machiah Center approved by Planning Board

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NEW GLOUCESTER — Despite a petition signed by a group of local citizens that was hand delivered to the Planning Board at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, the Machiah Center was approved by the board in a vote of 4-1.

Newly appointed board member Steve Maschino voted against the approval.

Vice Chairman Wanda Brissette led the meeting with the help of Town Planner Paul First after Chairman Jean Libby recused herself for conflict of interest or bias. Her son Donald, who opposes the project, is an abutter to the proposal.

The board requires 12 conditions be met and the final plan is slated for signing at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The  Machiah Center, a tax-exempt, nonprofit program of the JSL Foundation, is a retreat to provide rest, reflection and fellowship to small groups of activists and scholars who are trying to make the world a better place.

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Applicant Jonathan Lee, who is the president, secretary and treasurer of the JSL Foundation in Falmouth, will live in the 1765 Georgian-style home at 288 Tobey Road. It sits on 62 acres of land in the Farm and Forest District in the groundwater protection overlay zone.

The petition from a group of concerned citizens of New Gloucester states, “Since the proposed retreat is only similar to a use that can be permitted and since it is also similar to a use that is prohibited, we ask that you thoroughly review the Zoning Ordinance before approval is granted.”

The petition also asks for assurance that the purpose and intent of the Farm and Forest District and the proposed project “will not affect the safety, property values and rights of other citizens.”

Brissette said the board completed the reviews with sufficient legal review prior to the petition by the town attorney. And, the approvals are based on how the ordinance was written.

She said the petitioners should bring their concerns to the New Gloucester Land Management Planning Committee that oversees zoning issues.

The seasonal retreat center will be developed in two phases and open in 2012.

A wetland buffer was reduced to 36 feet. The applicant’s approval is extended to three years and construction must begin within six months.

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