BELFAST — After two meetings over the span of a week, the Belfast Planning Board voted to approve the site plan and use permit for the Belfast Water District for the property located at 41 Wight St.

Approval came after several Belfast residents spoke regarding their concerns about the plan, specifically the provision to build a six-bay garage on the property.

The meeting on the site plan was originally scheduled for June 22, but had to be continued to June 29  in part because not all of the abutters had been notified of the public hearing on the plan. City Planner Jon Boynton said the software used to provide the notices for abutters did not populate all of the contacts for those abutters residing in condominiums, so he needed additional time to make sure all abutters were notified.

The Planning Board decided to proceed on June 22 with the presentation of the site plan and then opened the public comment portion, during which only two residents spoke regarding the project. The public portion of the meeting was then continued to June 29, where several residents aired their concerns and then the board finalized the review process and ultimately voted to approve the site plan and use permit.

The plan was for the Water District, which had recently purchased the property that formerly was a medical office building, to move their headquarters into the building. As part of the plan, the district proposed to build a 3,200 square-foot, six-bay garage on the property, as well as to improve the stormwater system; construct fencing to improve screening to nearby neighbors; and eliminate several parking places where the garage would be constructed.

Water District Superintendent Keith Pooler said the district has been looking for a location for its headquarters for some time since the Nordic Aquafarms project began. After a long search, the district felt the location at 41 Wight St. was a good choice, as it was a building that had not been used in some time and it was centrally located within Belfast, he said.

Pooler said the garage will be used primarily for pickup trucks, a small dump truck and the various tools the district uses on repair projects. Pooler said that with the exception of emergencies, which happen only about six or seven times a year, the normal working day is from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Dirigo Engineering Senior Project Engineer Randy Butler, who has been working with the district on the project, said the proposed garage would be built within the footprint of the existing parking lot to the rear of the property. He said that in analyzing the existing stormwater system, he found it was originally designed for a stormwater retention pond. He said the plan would be to increase the size of the pond area, which should decrease the amount of flow from storm events. He also discussed several plans for discharge pipes he said would also help to reduce the flow from storms between 40% and 50%.

During the public hearing portion of the meeting on June 22, resident Cary Slocum said she is the owner of one of the condo units near the property at 41 Wight St. and is concerned about whether the property is becoming more industrial. She said she has concerns about a dump truck being stored on the property, adding that residents might hear noises from the truck early in the morning. She also said several condo units have their master bedrooms near the border with the property and that they could possibly see or hear activities coming from the proposed garage.

Resident Stanley Munson said he lives directly across the street from the Water District’s property. He said the biggest questions he had regarding the proposed garage is what effect it would have on traffic patterns along the road and how it will affect property values for area residents.

During the June 29 meeting, Slocum again spoke and referred to a community-wide meeting held on Monday regarding the city’s plans to improve Wight Street. She said that based upon that discussion she feels the Water District’s plans are even less compatible with the overall plan for Wight Street outlined in that meeting, which included several measures that were based upon the road’s overall residential character.

Resident Gene Randall said his patio and master bedroom are in direct line-of-sight to the proposed development. Randall said he felt an administrative office would be appropriate for the property. He said he was concerned with the size of the garage and that its anticipated use was more of an industrial use and not compatible with the neighborhood.

Resident Sara Shute described the proposed garage as akin to a fire station. She said she would be looking at the back of the proposed garage and said the drawings of the back of the building looked similar to a prison. She urged the board to consider the aesthetic and cultural values of the community and said a large garage does not fit in with the ambiance of Wight Street.

Other residents voiced similar concerns.

One resident, Michele Henrion, said she felt depressed about the whole situation. She said people buy into a neighborhood expecting it to be one way but then plans come together that change the character of the neighborhood. She asked the board why there is a plan to take the neighborhood and put a gigantic building in the neighborhood, which she described as upsetting.

During the public hearing it was discussed what recourse residents would have if they did not like the decision of the planning board. Boynton said once the Planning Board has issued permits, anyone who is an abutter can appeal the decision within 30 days.

Following the close of public comments, the board proceeded to discuss the site plan, with particular attention paid to some of the points raised by residents. One of the suggestions made by board Chair Hugh Townsend was to put evergreen trees in the northeast corner of the property in order to cut down the visibility of the garage, to which Pooler said the district would not be opposed to planting trees.

One of the other items for discussion was putting siding on the garage similar to the existing office building on the property to give it the same consistency and look. Several of the residents who spoke said they liked the look of the current building on the property and asked whether the garage could be constructed with a similar look.

The board decided to put a condition on the plan that the district consider a different siding and present that to the Intown Design Review Committee. The district said it was willing to consider the suggestion of neighbors regarding the project.

Townsend said the approval was based upon the fact that the Water District’s plan is an allowed use and the district is addressing the needs of the residents.