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Lowe’s proposal discussed at planners’ meeting

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FARMINGTON – Engineers of all types were in attendance at Monday evening’s planning board meeting, as preliminary presentations and discussion were held for a proposed Lowe’s retail home improvement store.

Lowe’s Home Centers, Inc. wants to build a 138,000 square foot shopping center at the intersection of Whittier Road and Routes 2 & 4. All told, they estimate the center could provide 120 to 150 jobs for the region, with 70 to 75 percent of those being full-time positions. The typical Lowe’s store operates from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week and Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

They are in the process of purchasing their site, a 17-acre cow pasture currently owned by Edith McCleery, and have begun the permitting process with the numerous state agencies that govern large-scale development proposals in the state.

Representatives of the company’s engineering firm, Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers Inc., of Gray, said that a formal presentation of a site plan could take months.

“This is a preliminary presentation,” senior engineer Douglas Reynolds told the board, “just to show you what we’re thinking and what we’re talking about.”

The store, which features 94,000 square feet of retail space and includes a lumber yard and garden center, would be accessed off the Whittier Road. Traffic engineers have suggested the estimated 2,000 vehicles going into the site on an average day, coupled with traffic from nearby Mt. Blue High School, yields a flow large enough to warrant another traffic light on the Wilton Road. This light would be in sync with the traffic light outside of the Hannaford’s shopping plaza.

The store would be accompanied by 406 parking spaces in its current design, 31 more than required by law. Sewer and water would be provided through service pipes along the Wilton Road. The store would also have three, separate loading docks and provide on the site deliveries and truck rentals for people picking up lumber or supplies.

Lowe’s representatives estimated that a 2010 spring construction date might be realistic, with the store opening later that year. However, the project must undergo several different permitting processes.

Roughly 24,000 square feet of wetlands could be impacted by the building, and the company said it will look to provide a plan to mitigate that impact whenever possible. An archaeological dig, mandated by state regulation, found two small pieces of an old hide-scrapping tool, and Lowe’s has already altered their plans to leave that site intact should further study be desired.

The Informed Growth Act, passed in 2007, will further complicate the permitting process. The act is triggered when a retail building in excess of 70,000 square feet is built in Maine. The company will need to hire, at the town’s choosing, a consultant to study the economic impact of a Lowe’s store coming to town. This could include the impact of the store on existing businesses, such as Wal-Mart, Dexter Building Supplies and Hammond Lumber Company.

Lowe’s will be the first company in Maine to go through the Informed Growth Act process, which includes substantial interaction with the Maine state planning office and at least one public hearing.

Planning board members offered little input, asking a few questions to clarify traffic flow reports and storm water treatment. Board Member Clayton King, Jr. did suggest that the company come forward with multiple design suggestions, much like Rite-Aid did, for the board’s consideration.

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