BETHEL — A Board of Appeals meeting last week focused on a proposed propane facility that was approved by the Bethel Planning Board on June 26. Discussion ultimately ended with the appeal process being set to continue on Tuesday Sept. 10, in order to allow the board more time to review the issue.

An appeal to the planning board’s decision was made in July by Mike and Ewa Zeoli, who both reside on Forest Drive. The Zeolis are abutters to the proposed site and have expressed strong opposition to the site since first learning about.

The Zeolis purchased their property on Forest Drive in August of 2018, after Everett had already bought the abutting property. They said they were not informed about the project when they bought the house.

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Attorney Chris Wright of Crockett and Wright P.C. in Bethel, spoke on behalf of the Zeolis.

He explained how two Planning Board members had a conflict of interest and should not have been part of the board’s decision. He began by speaking about member Dwayne Bennett, who is an abutter to the proposed site.

“A conflict of interest exists when a board member is an abutter,” Wright said. “By definition, an abutter has a conflict of interest and cannot participate or vote on a site plan application.”

Bennett did not recuse himself from the vote until a June 26 Planning Board meeting. Bennett cited business interests as his primary reason.

“The Planning Board got it wrong, and they got it wrong with two board members, who both had conflict of interests,” Wright said.

The other board member Wright was referring to is Cheryl Thurston.

Thurston, who helped Everett Propane with the transaction of the property last summer, opted not to recuse herself from the June 26 meeting.

“I don’t see that this has any bearing on this. The Everetts never shared with me what they intended to do with the property. There was another broker involved as well,” Thurston said at a June 26 meeting.

She added that what she did does not meet any of the criteria in the policy and procedures.

“As a realtor working with the Everetts, who assisted them with purchasing the property, Mrs. Thurston had an obligation to disclose this to the board and put it to a vote. When she finally did disclose her interest, the board took a vote,” Wright said.

The board unanimously approved member Mike Charron’s (Charron is no longer a member of the planning board) motion that Thurston did not have a conflict.

“The Planning Board failed to follow procedural guidelines required to determine if Mrs. Thurston had a conflict of interest,” Wright said.

Wright suggested that the Board of Appeals send the application back to the Planning Board to have them start the process again.

Attorney Jim Cross, who is representing Everett Propane, spoke next.

“We believe that the Planning Board was fair in the way that it conducted itself and with balancing the competing interests,” Cross said.

Cross said that he did not think that Thurston had a conflict of interest, and that Bennett made the right decision by recusing himself from the vote and by participating only as a member of the audience.

“We think that the planning board’s decision should stand and that the board of appeals should dismiss the case for lack of standing,” Cross said.

“I don’t feel that the issue of conflict of interest is a valid one,” Appeals Board member Lennie Shaw said.

“I don’t feel that there was a conflict of interest by either of the parties,” member Fran Head said.

Head added that because Thurston did not know what Everett was going to do with the property, that it should not be an issue.

Zeoli had a different take.

“My take on that Appeals Board is that they tipped their hand as soon as they first spoke, when they refused to believe that Planning Board members could be duplicitous,” he said. ” Their eventual decision, hidden behind a smokescreen of detail and confusion, will be that they stand behind the people they’ve known for decades over someone who doesn’t even live here yet.  I think we have a much better chance in court, where home team advantage means little.”

Background 

Everett Propane of West Paris  bought a 4.24-acre property at 175 Walkers Mills Road in Bethel last summer. Owner Scott Everett said he plans to install two 30,000-gallon tanks and a 1,000-gallon propane pump station for tank for refilling and filling 20 pound tanks.

The property is located just past Bennett Automotive on the right leaving Bethel.

The applicant plans to turn part of the house and garage into office and storage space.

A propane distribution facility will be built at the back of the property.

A road leading to the back of the property will be built almost parallel from the entrance on Sunset Road.

Motion detector lights will be on over the tanks. The tanks are more than 250 feet back from Route 26.

Esther Bizier of Maine-Land Development spent some of a June 26 Planning Board meeting explaining how the visibility of the tanks will be mitigated by planting trees (which will grow to 20 feet) on each side of the tanks. Constructing a fence around the tanks was also considered, but Bizier said it would make the site look more “industrial.”

As of now a bobtail truck will be making four trips a day in and out of the facility.

The tractor trailer truck will make one stop per day at the facility, and will be there close to 10 a.m.

All application materials can be viewed at the Bethel Town Office.


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