SCARBOROUGH – The fight to stop construction of an 81-unit assisted living and dementia home near the Oak Hill intersection of Black Point Road and Route 1 has grown beyond a Facebook page to a legal challenge.

Members of the recently formed opposition group, Friends of Oak Hill, said Sunday they have retained an attorney in hopes of preventing construction of the 59,000-square-foot building by Wegman Companies of Rochester, N.Y., which owns 14 similar facilities in its home state and Ohio.

The neighbors say more than 100 people have signed a petition calling on Wegman to relocated its facility to Haigis Parkway, or some other section of town. Group members unanimously claim not to oppose senior housing of its own accord – although some question the need in Scarborough given the existence of five similar facilities, many reportedly with open rooms.

Instead, they say, replacing trees with buildings and parking lots at the 8.5-acre lot would create a water runoff hazard for homes located downhill from the site, while exacerbating a traffic problem that for many already has become intolerable.

“I’ve lived on that road for 14 years and in that time I’ve watched the traffic level grow, if not double than triple,” said Lisa Ronco, whose lawn across Black Point Road from the project site now sports a large sign reading “It’s not a done deal.”

“For me and my neighbors, it can take as anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes just to get out of our driveways,” Ronco said on Sunday.

“There’s a handful of people making a lot of money on this deal,” said neighbor Jay Phelps. “It’s a stinky, filthy, rotten mess and the people of this town should be up in arms.”

A traffic count conducted in May by Scarborough police at the request of residents showed that during 120-hour period, 79,555 cars passed where the curb cut to the Wegman complex will go, just 300 feet from Route 1 on Black Point Road.

Traffic engineering firm Gorrell-Palmer Consulting, of Gray, has predicted the facility would generate no more than 14 “trip ends” per morning peak hour of activity, and no more than 18 in the evening. That translates to no more than “one car every 10 minutes” during the hours of peak congestion at the Oak Hill intersection – between 7-9 a.m. and 3-6 p.m. – the company said in its report.

Wegman got preliminary approval from the Planning Board in February. In March, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted a special exemption allowing the 20 dementia care units. The project must go back before the Planning Board for a full site plan review. According to Town Manager Tom Hall, planners are now waiting on permitting approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Neither officials at Wegman nor SMRT engineering in Portland, the engineering firm on the project, returned calls seeking comment.

That permit, said Ronco, forms the crux of the group’s challenge. Wegman is using a review from a 2007 plan that envisioned an 8,200-square-foot, six-unit residential development that never went forward.

“The DEP needs to take a closer look and decide that this is not a minor amendment to that plan, it’s a major amendment,” said Ronco.

“There is a swale of water coming down now,” agreed Joan Jagolinzer, who lives in the Cedarbrook condominiums near the project site. “We’ve had two irrigation projects since we’ve lived there, and we’ve only lived there for five years. This is going to make it worse.”

But the town planner, Dan Bacon, said the Planning Board cannot direct the project beyond ensuring that it complies with all state and local laws.

“The Planning Board uses the site plan review ordinance standards in issuing approvals or not,” he said. “They’ve heard the general concerns of the public, but at this stage, they felt the project was shaping up to meet those standards.”

“I don’t see any bar to their approval at this point,” Hall said last week.

But some in the residents’ group claim there’s more to the apparently imminent approval than meets the eye.

“This is a sideshow,” said Phelps. “You have a developer and a mortgage developer who also leases heavy equipment on the Planning Board. Conflict of interest? I would say. There’s a lot of money on the table that nobody’s being told about.”

On Wednesday, the Town Council was expected to make appointments to a new traffic committee, formed to try to resolve congestion issues at Oak Hill, among other places in town. Already, the committee has about $300,000 from impact fees it can use to fund any formal studies. Wegman plans to give some of its property along its Black Point Road frontage to create two additional traffic lanes totaling about 200 feet long, to allow “stacking” traffic at the Oak Hill traffic light. A so-called “pocket lane” also will be added for traffic turning left into the Wegman complex.

However, Hall said, the traffic committee may come up with other ideas, including but not limited to new “jug handle” roads to direct traffic onto Route 1 away from Oak Hill.

“This [Wegman] is about the most benign impact of anything I could think of for that area,” said Hall. “But it’s true that there have been issues there, frankly, for decades, and it is the responsibility of the town to provide a solution. We have done countless engineering studies and I think we might have the answer already in one or more of these existing studies.”

The new committee will “dust off and revisit” that work,” said Hall, suggesting that directing their energies to that effort is the best alternative for Friends of Oak Hill members. Some have applied for a spot, but most say they will stick to their guns on trying to prevent the Wegman project from overwhelming their homes.

“Sadly,” said Hall, “over time things change. That area has already changed and even our comprehensive plan recognizes that it’s never again going to be a bucolic little neighborhood. I think the solutions to Oak Hill are not easy or cheap, or they would have been done long ago, but it’s never going to be easy to live there.”

Area residents and other opponents to an 81-unit senior housing complex on Black Point Road gather Sunday to voice their opposition. Pictured, from left, are Lisa Ronco, Joan Jagolinzer, Rosemary Ronco, Deanna Bird, Linda Morneault, Stephanie Ruel, Pat St. Laurent, Jackie Nielsen, Henry Nielsen, Betsy Kaufer,  Jeannette Conley,  Julia Phelps, Ruby Phelps and Jay Phelps.  (Staff photo by Duke Harrington)

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