The Saco School Department’s intended use to house a Pre-K school at the former Toddle Inn building requires planning board approval and a certificate of occupancy, according to the Saco Zoning Board of Appeals. Currently the Saco School Department is paying $24,000 a month a month in rent for the vacant property. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

SACO — The Saco School Department’s intended use to house a Pre-K school at the former Toddle Inn building requires planning board approval and a certificate of occupancy, according to the Saco Zoning Board of Appeals.

The Zoning Board of Appeals heard an appeal on Monday brought by the school department challenging the city’s code enforcement officer’s decision that the school needed the approvals for the former day care facility at 5 Willey Road it began renting on July 1 with the intention of housing a Pre-K school.

The city has since ordered the school department to leave the building, and the school department has found alternate arrangements for Pre-K students for the current school year. Though the school department is not using the 5 Willey Road property, it is still paying $24,000 a month in rent for the building.

On July 19, Saco City Code Enforcement Officer Richard Lambert and Saco City Attorney Tim Murphy sent a letter to the school department giving the school department 10 days to vacate the Toddle Inn building. The letter reiterated a notice sent to property owner Cheryl Carrier, stating that the use of the building as a public school violated covenants in the Spring Hill Industrial Park where Willey Road is located.

The July 19 letter from Lambert and Murphy also said that the intended new use of the parcel needed approval from the city’s planning board as well as a certificate of occupancy. Because the city said the proposed Pre-K school was violated covenants, it declined to give the school department a certificate of occupancy.

The Zoning Board of Appeals voted to uphold the city’s decision on Monday night after hearing testimony from both Murphy, the city’s attorney, and Saco School Department attorney Adrianne Fouts.

Fouts argued that city ordinance did not support the decision that the school department needed to go to the planning board as it only applies to “new development or improvement of scope that is substantial.” City ordinance does not require certificate of occupancy, she said.

Murphy said the school department needed to get a site plan review from the planning board and a certificate of occupancy, because although there was no substantial change to the property, there was a change of use from a private day care to a public school.

“A change of use is a change of occupancy,” said Murphy.

Last week, the city council heard an appeal from the school department regarding the city’s decision to shut the power off at 5 Willey Road on July 30. The city council ruled the city’s action was justified, as there were safety concerns with the electrical system on the property.

Zoning Board of Appeals member John Leavitt made reference to the city’s findings of the electrical system on 5 Willey Road, and said there needed to be some sort of review process in place to make sure the building was safe before it was allowed to be used as a public school.

“I think it’s a good thing both parties work together,” he said.

Though the question of whether a school is allowed under the Spring Hill Industrial Park covenants came up Monday night, there was no vote on the matter.

The Saco School Department is asking the city to authorize the use of a public school under the Spring Hill business park covenant. This request will be heard by the Economic Development Council on Oct. 21. The Economic Development Committee will make a recommendation which will be forwarded to the Saco City Council.

Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 780-9015 or [email protected].

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