FARMINGTON – The planning board spent most of their Monday evening meeting discussing a proposal made by the University of Maine at Farmington to utilize spaces in the parking lot of the new W.G. Mallett School for the university’s proposed performing arts center.
The board conditionally approved the parking plan, which would let UMF use 25 spaces after 3 p.m. for the arts center, but not without several members expressing reservations about the timing and nature of the plan. UMF Vice President of Administration Bill Geller said that MSAD 9 was interested in getting the parking plan approved by the planning board so negotiations between UMF and the school district could continue.
Currently a 147-space parking lot, which was constructed at great expense by the university, abuts the existing Mallett School. In order to keep Mallett on the existing campus that parking lot will need to be given to the school district. MSAD 9 and UMF are currently in negotiations for that property, but the university is concerned that its existing facilities have access to the parking that they need. Twenty spaces will be set aside, for instance, for the use of Black Hall.
According to Code Enforcement Officer Steve Kaiser, the proposed 100-seat performing arts center to be located between Merrill Hall and the Alumni Theater, which has yet to appear before the planning board, requires 25 parking spaces to be approved. The university plans on using the nearby Mallett School parking lot for these 25 spaces.
“We’re trying to put less blacktop on the earth and take less land off the tax rolls,” Geller said.
The planning board members who were concerned with the proposal noted that no signed agreements currently existed between MSAD 9 and UMF. Some also pointed to the recent uncertainties caused by a recent decision made by the Maine Historical Society to declare a building on Perham Street, which would be razed under MSAD 9’s current plan, within a “historical district.” The MHS advises the Department of Environmental Protection, which is currently reviewing the project. If forced to alter plans, a decision which has not been made, architects may be forced to alter the parking plan for the new school.
“I don’t feel comfortable voting on this at this time,” said Planning Board Member Lloyd Smith, “when so many variables are up in the air.”
“Tonight is not the night to vote on this,” he went on to say.
Other planning board members questioned whether UMF could assign after-hours Mallett School parking spots, effectively assigning “part-time parking” to the new arts center to fulfill the 4-seat to 1-spot requirement.
Planning Board member Thomas Eastler said that the board should consider only the conditions in existence and not what might happen in the future. He noted that the board would need to approve the arts center, regardless to decisions made that night.
“The reason the planning board exists is because we use common sense and good judgment,” Eastler said, “or at least I thought we did.”
Town Manager Richard Davis, who served on the Mallett School building committee, agreed.
“You have to look at what the reality is on the face of the earth,” he said. He went on to note that the issue was time sensitive, with several state agencies waiting on the UMF/MSAD 9 negotiations.
Finally, the board acted on a suggestion made by member Craig Jordan, who had questions about the timing of UMF’s request. He motioned to approve the plan, contingent upon MSAD 9 agreeing to assign 25 spaces to UMF on a part-time basis.
That motion was approved by a vote of 5 to 1, with member Clayton King in dissent.