KINGFIELD – Voters Thursday night resoundingly defeated a proposal to place a moratorium on Planning Board review of big industrial project applications in the biggest special town meeting vote Kingfield has ever seen.
Cheers and applause erupted when moderator Paul Mills stood to tell the voters that in the “largest town meeting voter turnout (the town clerk) can recall, the total number of voters were 433,” and 332 voted against the ban and 100 for it.
Members of Citizens for Our Right to Vote petitioned the town for a moratorium on reviewing permit applications for big industrial projects days after Poland Spring Water Co. submitted an application to build a $100 million bottling plant in town this March.
Voting rights group representatives said the town needs time to add industrial zones to Kingfield’s land-use ordinances, a move called for more than 10 years ago when voters accepted the Comprehensive Plan.
If enough residents voted yes, the Planning Board would be prohibited from reviewing the Poland Spring application and any others for big industrial projects for at least six months, during which time residents would have been encouraged to amend the town’s zoning laws.
But, during Thursday night’s standing-room-only meeting, it was the people who spoke against the moratorium and for the arrival of Poland Spring who received the loudest clapping and cheering from the nearly 500-person-strong audience.
Lisa Standish, who urged voters to vote “yes” for the moratorium, explained she loves driving into the “magnificent” southern entrance to town, past fields where children sled in the winter and hay bales rest in the summer. She said she fears the beauty could be marred by the proposed bottling plant.
Speaking immediately after Standish, John Witherspoon said he, too, loves the mountains and the beauty of Kingfield. But “driving out here tonight I went by the Knapp Brothers (now out of business auto dealership) – no cars, the lots were empty.” When he moved to town years ago, two now-defunct mills were still paying people high wages.
“I value this community,” he said. And “the primary reason,” people have chosen to live in Kingfield, regardless of the beauty, “is all the people who live in this town – the character of the people. And people need jobs.”
The town needs Poland Spring, he said, and added that he hopes the town will “establish some strong zoning requirements to preserve our fields, our southern entrance,” and the character of the town, but defeat the moratorium proposal and welcome Poland Spring.
When he finished, people began cheering and didn’t stop until he had reached his seat.
When votes were cast, people stood in line chatting and laughing, remaining genial even with those with opposite views.
In the past year, many in Kingfield have voiced fears that the bottling plant issue would divide the community, but Thursday it looked like friendship had won out.
After the results had been announced and people had filed out of the elementary school, ballot clerk Judy Dill beamed and said she thinks “it’s wonderful. I think the town has spoken, and they need to put (the moratorium) to bed.” She added she thinks the proposed plant will have a positive impact on area schools.
Moratorium proponents were nowhere to be seen after the results were read, but during the vote former selectman and current chairman of the Comprehensive Planning Committee, Shelly Poulin, said that, though she feels the town needs more time to “really look at the growth issues so we don’t have regrets down the road,” she will “live with whatever my fellow community members decide.” With “this many people (voting), it is really a true rendering of what we feel.” She added that “we’re not divided as a community. You vote your way, I’ll vote my way, you know?”
Poland Spring representative Tom Brennan, who did not attend Thursday’s meeting, said he was “pleased” with the vote and is “very impressed with the town of Kingfield in how they’ve gone through this process.
“We’ll move forward,” with the application process, he said by phone.
Brennan said last month that, if the moratorium were not enacted, Poland Spring hopes to break ground on the new facility late this fall.