FARMINGTON — Following more than two hours of testimony Monday night, the Farmington Planning Board deferred action on a site plan review for moving the Western Maine Homeless Outreach shelter downtown.

The shelter has operated for six years in the basement of the Living Waters church on Wilton Road. Organizers want to move it downtown to get away from the traffic of the busy, four-lane Wilton Road and to raise the number of beds available, among other reasons.

About 140 people attended the hearing, which was held at the Community Center to accommodate the expected large audience. Public comments began at 6:36 p.m. and continued until 9 p.m.

About two-thirds of those speaking favored the move of the shelter to the Holman House, owned by the First Congregational Church, which is next door on Main Street.

Opponents of moving the shelter, represented by Portland lawyer Matt Manahan, built their case on the planning board’s earlier decision to designate the shelter a group home. Manahan said the board should reconsider that designation. The vote that was delayed at the end of the hearing was on a motion to reconsider.

Farmington’s zoning rules do not deal with shelters specifically, said Frank Underkuffler, a retired lawyer speaking as a town resident, so the planning board needed to reverse its group-home designation, made June 10, go back to the drawing board and get language into town ordinances that refer specifically to shelters.


Then, the language should go to a town meeting for a decision, Underkuffler said.

“We can trust town meeting to make a democratic choice,” he said.

Testimony favoring the shelter’s move focused on the needs of the shelter’s clients. About 400 people have been served by the shelter in six years, and about 200 of them have acquired permanent housing since their stay in the shelter. Several speakers said that police have seldom been called to the shelter.

Downtown business owner John Moore disagreed, saying police were called to the shelter 17 times in 2017 and 18 times in 2018.

Ron Aseltine, a lawyer representing the shelter, said the only arrest has been of a man trying to prevent a woman from checking into the shelter.

Among other arguments made by supporters were that guests would be safer downtown than on the highway, kids could walk to school or libraries and families in the shelter could shop downtown more easily than they could from the Wilton Road location.

After the hearing, the Planning Board returned to the agenda of its regular meeting, which included three applications for adult-use marijuana stores and two for medical marijuana stores.

A motion to reconsider the June 10 group-home designation vote was on the floor when the board returned to its regular agenda.

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