OLD ORCHARD BEACH — The question of whether to approve an easement agreement between the Harmon Museum and the Old Orchard Beach branch of Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution, to make way for a parking lot, will be on the ballot Tuesday.

The two buildings sit on adjacent lots on Portland Avenue. If the parking lot were built, it would provide 13 spaces, including a handicap-accessible spot. Three of the spaces, including the handicap spot, would be reserved for the museum, which currently doesn’t have a parking lot, and the remainder would be used by the bank, which has expressed a need for extra spaces in the busy summer months.

Proponents of the plan, like town historian Dan Blaney, say a yes vote would be a “win-win” for the bank and the town. He said it would save taxpayers the expense of building, plowing and maintaining the lot, for which the bank would pay. The bank would also pay for a handicap-accessible ramp at the front entrance to the museum, as well as other improvements to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Not everyone is in favor of the plan, however, as evidenced by opposition flyers that have been palced on vehicles around town. Museum abutter Paul Dornan has been involved in distribution of the flyers in an effort to make more people aware of the issue prior to next week’s vote.

Dornan said he does not believe giving an easement to the bank is in the town’s best interest, and he noted that Blaney, who has been advocating for the lot, is a corporator of the bank.

“This is not only a conflict of interest, it is also unethical,” said Dornan.

The flyer states that the easement agreement “benefits the corporate interest of the Saco Biddeford Savings Institution” and “is predicated on a false premise that the Harmon Historical Museum does not have a driveway to access parking on its property.”

It claims the museum has a driveway that can be used to access a lot that could be built by the town. The flyer gives an alternative to the proposed plan, which would be for the town to build a parking lot and ADA-compliant handicap ramp. According to the flyer, the estimated cost would be $20,000.

Dornan has also cited personal concerns with the parking lot proposal, such as loss of privacy at his home, which would face the lot. Building the lot will require the removal of four apple trees and the lawn, which is what Dornan and his wife Cheryl currently view out of their back windows.

“You can see right in our windows from the (proposed) parking lot,” he said.

Blaney said he takes issue with a number of the points in the flyer and other statements made by Dornan at a recent public hearing.

Blaney said he approached the bank with the parking lot easement idea a couple of years ago after he learned a museum volunteer would be needing a wheelchair, and she would require handicap accessibility to the building if she were to keep volunteering. By working with the bank, said Blaney, it would ease the tax burden of local property taxpayers. He said the construction of the lot and handicap accessibility improvements would cost considerably more than the $20,000 estimated in the flyer.

Bill Kany, senior vice president and director of legal and government affairs for Saco & Biddeford Savings, said at last week’s public hearing that the bank has already spent $20,000 on engineering and surveying alone.

If the town were to make the improvements, said Blaney, “That’s going to cost the taxpayers of this town at least $100,000. If the bank does it, it’s going to cost the town zero.”

As for the apple trees on the property, Blaney said, two are dead and the other two don’t have much life left in them.

In response to Dornan’s claim that Blaney has a conflict of interest, Blaney acknowledged that he is a corporator of Saco & Biddeford Savings. However, he said, he has been a bank corporator for about 26 years, but he has been a member of the Old Orchard Beach Historical Society for even longer: 44 years. The historical society owns the museum.

“I have a conflict of interest for that,” Blaney said, of the historical society.

He noted that he didn’t sign any agreements with the bank or have a vote on the issue, other than the vote he will cast on Election Day, along with the rest of the town’s voters.

Blaney also noted that the parking lot is a permitted use in the zone in which it is located, and that whether the town or the bank pays for it, a parking lot is needed and will be located in back of the Harmon Museum.

If the proposal is approved, Blaney said it would go before the planning board and would have to follow the requirements for setbacks, buffers and other rules, and would try to accommodate abutters to make a parking lot as least disruptive as possible.

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324 or [email protected]

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