Justin McIver hopes to build Hotel Bridgton on the Saunders Mill site and two adjacent parcels. File photo

BRIDGTON — In a victory for a citizens group opposing the Hotel Bridgton project, the Appeals Board voted 4-1 Nov. 6 to reverse the Planning Board’s approval of the controversial plan.

A lawyer representing the Save Kennard Street group called the reversal “a success story,” but said he expects that hotel developer Justin McIver of Maine Eco Homes will take his case to Superior Court. Neither McIver nor his attorney, Mark Bower of law firm Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry, responded to a Lakes Region Weekly request for comment.

Save Kennard Street’s lawyer David Lourie said he expects the citizens group would win, should the issue come before the court.

But for now, “we’re waiting,” Lourie said.

“It’s up to them,” Lourie said. “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” 

After a year and a half of deliberations and contentious public hearings, the Planning Board in June approved the 66-room Hotel Bridgton, to be built on the Saunders Mill site and two adjacent parcels on Bacon and Kennard streets.

The 15,355-square foot project has been a source of controversy. Some residents are upset about the hotel’s size and location between a neighborhood and Main Street while others welcome the project.

Save Kennard Street filed an appeal in July, and the town Appeals Board took up a review of the Planning Board’s decision. After hours of deliberation in October, the Appeals Board delayed making its final decision until last week.

Much of the discussion Nov. 6 was about whether the Appeals Board members “know how to do their job,” as Chairman John Schuettinger put it.

Attorney Jim Katsiaficas of Perkins Thompson, representing the town, reminded the board multiple times that “this board is reviewing the Planning Board’s decision approving the project. This board is not itself reviewing the project.” 

Board member Kevin Raday added that the board should not “substitute our judgment for the Planning Board’s judgment.”

“We should be talking about whether they did something wrong,” Raday said.

The board went through Save Kennard Street’s eight points of appeal, including that the hotel’s size and scale are not compatible with the surrounding area, that the project’s stormwater management plan is illegal and that the proposed storm drains and electrical lines are prohibited in that zone.

Board members voted to sustain the Planning Board’s decision on five of those points and voted to reverse its decision on the other three: the hotel’s size and scale are not compatible with the surrounding area, the approval of the stormwater management plan in the stream protection district was in error and the Planning Board erred in considering storm drains and electrical lines to be essential services. 

Katsiaficas suggested delaying the final vote until he had had time to write a draft of the board’s decision for members to read, but member Bruce Hancock said, “I personally believe that we’ve seen enough” and favored voting that night. 

The board voted 4-1, with Raday against, to reverse the decision of the Planning Board and grant the appeal.

Katsiaficas will write up the decision and board members can call for reconsideration if they disagree with his document.

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