WESTBROOK – A consent agreement between Pike Industries and the city of Westbrook for a controversial Spring Street quarry moved closer to finalization Tuesday night, as the Planning Board voted to recommend key zoning ordinance changes to the City Council.

Board members Robin Tannenbaum, Cory Fleming and Michael Taylor were absent, but the remaining six members – five regular and one alternate – voted 5-1 to recommend the changes.

“We’re hopefully in the home stretch,” said Tony Buxton, an attorney with Preti Flaherty, representing Pike.

The vote followed a public hearing lasting an hour and a half, with 23 people in attendance, many of them voicing their opinions for and against the changes. The quarry has been an issue since 2009, when plans by Pike to ramp up operations there sparked heated debate about whether the company should be allowed to work the quarry, an operation that would include blasting, crushing and other activity. Neighbors have argued that the operations would be unsightly, noisy, or, in the case of blasting, would cause vibrations that could even damage surrounding properties.

When executives at Idexx Laboratories, one of the neighbors, hinted at canceling plans to build a multi-million-dollar corporate headquarters due to Pike’s quarry, city officials began working with Pike to forge an agreement restricting the quarry’s operations.

After a Cumberland County Superior Court judge signed off on the agreement, Idexx buried the hatchet with Pike, but other objectors, including Artel, Smiling Hill Farm and a group of local residents, have fought on, taking Pike to court in several ongoing cases and arguing their needs have never been addressed.

In an Aug. 23 ruling, the court granted conditional approval to the consent agreement, finding that it was legally binding in all ways except one: a list of “performance standards” specified in the agreement were not enforceable.

Instead, the court found, the city of Westbrook would need to alter its zoning ordinances to include those same performance standards, making them enforceable on the city level, in case Pike ever violated those standards. Once those changes were made, the court ruled, Pike could come back to seek, and most likely get, full approval.

Tuesday’s meeting represented the first step in changing the ordinance, but Planning Board Chairman Ed Reidman said several times during the meeting that the board was only voting on whether to recommend the changes to the City Council, which must make the final call.

“The Planning Board does not make law,” he said. “It only recommends.”

Some opponents took to the podium to voice opposition to the quarry in general anyway. Warren Knight, a member of the family that owns Smiling Hill Farm, has been a vocal opponent of the quarry from the beginning. At the hearing, he renewed his arguments that neither Pike nor the quarry’s previous owners, with a history going back 60 years, ever had documented permission to operate a quarry on the property. He accused the city of giving in to Pike, saying, “The city went from a position of enforcement to appeasement.”

Knight also argued that the agreement was written behind closed doors, denying interested parties like himself the chance to weigh in.

“The consent agreement was a private agreement between private individuals, and the city sat in on that,” he said. “What you are looking at did not spring forth from a font of public participation, but from a boardroom, behind a locked door.”

One resident, Denise Toppi, of 1193 Methodist Road, spoke in favor of the agreement. While she did not live near Pike’s quarry, she said she moved to Methodist Road knowing that another dormant quarry, owned by another company, was on one side, and a capped landfill was on the other.

Since she moved in, she said, both have reopened. While unpleasant, she said, that’s the risk one takes moving in next to such properties, a lesson that neighbors to the Pike quarry should learn from.

“It was our choice to move there,” she said. “It was our choice to live there.”

Tim Bachelder, who lives on Spring Street across from the quarry, chairs the Spring Street Neighborhood Working Group, which represents the residents in the area. He has been another of the quarry’s more outspoken opponents, and on Tuesday he read a four-page letter into the record citing numerous passages in the proposed changes that he said did not make sense.

In the letter, Bachelder, who has been a consulting engineer for the past 23 years, called the consent agreement and the requested zoning changes “one of the sloppiest and ill-defined agreements I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The board did attempt to answer questions raised in the letter, but Bachelder said after the meeting that he was not satisfied.?“They didn’t address half the issues we put in there,” he said. “They blew right by them.”

Reidman, the only member of the board to comment on the proposed changes, reminded the crowd that the real binding decision is in the City Council’s hands, and will take place whether the board recommends the changes or not.

“No matter what we do tonight, the City Council does what it wants to do, at its own discretion,” he said.

Dennis Isherwood was the only board member voting against the changes. After the meeting, he said his vote was on behalf of neighbors who are still not satisfied with the agreement.

“I heard too many of the people who weren’t represented by the consent order (tonight), and I think their voice hasn’t been heard.”

Buxton said many of the objectors had a chance to discuss a compromise with Pike in the past, but they were intent on stopping the quarry, not working out a mutual agreement.

“I distinctly remember sitting with them and their attorneys,” he said. “They don’t want a quarry there. That’s their position.”

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