LEWISTON – A lawyer representing F.R. LePage Bakeries Co. indicated Tuesday that the company would fold its business in the downtown area if Planning Board members did not approve plans for its expansion.

“If it’s tabled then it will all go down,” attorney Kim A. Visbaras told the Planning Board. “I think LePage will make some decisions that will dramatically change the future of this business.”

Unresolved complaints addressed by neighbors of the bakery edged some of the board’s members toward supporting a delay on the vote. But property acquisition deals, Visbaras said, would become void in three days, so the process that has already taken months would have to start from the beginning.

“I find it remarkable that we are being threatened by LePage,” said Vice Chairman John Cole. “I don’t like having a gun to my head, and I don’t like threats being made.”

Cole questioned the statement that putting the project on hold for a few weeks so LePage could meet with neighbors would truly kill the business deal. “I don’t believe for a minute that a few weeks will destroy this project,” he said.

But Visbaras maintained that tabling the project now would cancel everything, right down to the city’s tax agreement with the bakery. Earlier, LePage had considered moving its business to Connecticut, but decided to stay in the downtown as long as it could grow.

“I think that speaks louder than anything I could say,” Visbaras said. “This plant needs to expand or it’s going to die.”

Following the three-hour discussion, board members approved the final plans with the condition that LePage meet with neighbors to address their troubles.

“I don’t want to brush the neighbors’ concerns aside,” said Lincoln Jeffers, Lewiston’s economic development specialist, “but they’re really operational and not project-based.”

The concerns included early morning noise from bakery workers, diesel fumes from trucks and snow being pushed off bakery grounds onto their property.

“We had a guy we were calling and talking to, but now, no one answers the phone,” said Roland P. Dostie, who lives at 214 Park St. near the bakery. “All we’re asking for is some common courtesy.”

“I think we’re all frustrated because we’ve heard this before, and nothing’s been done,” said board member Muriel Minkowsky. “We want to prevent sprawl, and this is just encouraging people to move out.”

The last time Dostie voiced his concerns, a City Council member said they would speak with LePage. “Now I’m here again, and he’s not here,” Dostie said.

“The problem is, there are no simple solutions to the concerns people brought up,” said City Planner Jim Lysen. “The resolutions are not going to make everyone happy.”

Besides neighbor complaints, other issues such as taking away Lisbon Street parking spaces, the impact an expansion will have on traffic, and insufficient landscaping projects around the bakery were also put under question.

“We’re kind of at a point where it’s like, we’ve got to undo things that have already been done,” said board member Roger Lachapelle, who questioned the efficiency of a process that did not include neighbors until the end.

The expansion plans will continue to change in minor ways as Tuesday’s concerns are addressed, said Chairman Dennis Mason, but approval from the board will set the project in motion.

“We’re prepared to move immediately,” said Michael Gotto of Technical Services Inc., the project’s consultants. Final paving and landscaping should be complete by the spring of 2002, he said.

The proposed $725,000 expansion project will add a 21,000-square-foot distribution center to the Lisbon Street bakery, and close a section of Birch Street from Lisbon to Park streets. Additional loading docks will be added to the rear of the building along Park Street, according to city documents, and a 44-space parking lot will be constructed on the corner of Park and Birch streets.

LePage is one of the top 10 property tax payers in Lewiston, said city officials, and employs about 100 people locally.


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