AUBURN — An effort to give developers time to settle legal issues won City Council approval Monday, despite objections from legal representatives from the Hilton Garden Inn.

City site plans approved by the planning board currently expire two
years after the approval date.

Councilors approved an ordinance change Monday, letting the countdown on the city’s site-plan approvals begin once all legal issues surrounding a development have been settled.

The change also added that approval retroactively, to site plans that were approved as far back as January 2007. Attorney Elliot Epstein, representing the Hilton Garden Inn owners, Riverwatch LLC, said that amounted to designer legislation.

“It’s the kind of legislation written exclusively to benefit one individual,” Epstein said. “If this were at the national level, we’d call it a special interest.”

Epstein’s client, Lee Griswold and Riverwatch LLC, are currently suing the city and developer Tom Platz over a proposal to build a second hotel in Great Falls Plaza.

That suit, filed in Androscoggin County Superior Court, cites improper procedures and an incomplete application from Platz and his partners, Mullaney Hospitality Group, and the city, when the Auburn Planning Board approved the hotel and parking garage on April 8, 2008.

The judge ruled in favor of Auburn and Platz, but Riverwatch has filed an appeal of that decision. The project, to build a second 110-room hotel in the Great Falls Plaza, remains on hold.

Epstein warned councilors that making the ordinance retroactive could be a constitutional issue.

“And I’d hate to think that the city would be opening itself up to further legal challenges,” Epstein said.

City staff told councilors that they had consulted with city attorneys on the change.

“We would not have brought this forward to the council if we were not assured that it was the right thing to do,” said Assistant City Manager Laurie Smith.

Councilors voted to accept the change unanimously.

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