Shown here is a draft rendering by Finegold Alexander Architects of the proposed 115,000 square foot York Judicial Center, slated to be built on Elm Street in Biddeford. The Planning Board will vote on a contract zone for the project on May 20 – a contract zone would be required because the height of the proposed building is nearly double the building height allowed in the zone. Courtesy Image

BIDDEFORD — A resident who lives near the proposed York County Judicial Center at 511-515 Elm St. has asked the Planning Board to order an independent third-party review of the proposal.

That suggestion, and questions about drainage, vernal pools, and landscape buffers, were voiced during an online Planning Board public hearing and final site plan review Wednesday, May 6.

The Planning Board will continue to take public comment on the proposed York Judicial Center, by mail or email, ahead of their May 20 meeting where they are expected to vote on a contract zone for the 115,000-square-foot structure at 511-515 Elm St. A contract zone would be required because the maximum height of the building is 68.5 feet tall — in a zone where the maximum height allowed is 35 feet

If approved, the matter returns to the City Council for a final contract zone vote.  The council approved the contract zone, in concept, in September.

On May 6, Sterling Roop told the Planning Board he believes the proposed building, to be located on the site known as the former Pate property, doesn’t fit in with the character of the neighborhood.

Roop also noted that the city had owned the property where the consolidated state court is to be located. The City Council voted unanimously to sell the Elm Street parcels, and an additional parcel at 384 Hill St., to the Maine Governmental Facility Authority for $810,000 in January 2017.

“There needs to be a third-party analysis,” Roop said. Some others, Matt Rossignol and Tim Guillerault voiced their agreement with Roop in a “chat” option during the online meeting,

In a written submission, William Denyer said the trees along his boundary with the property should be replaced — he wrote that the present trees there are a danger. Denyer attempted to access the online meeting, but was unable to due to technical issues.

Ronald Lavigne, in a written comment, said if he had a vote on the matter, his vote would be “no.”

“I feel it will adversely affect the mostly residential surrounding area,” wrote Lavigne.

Margen Soliman, who lives near by the proposed project, said, in part, that she’d like the terms of the contract written in, as an enforcement mechanism. As well, she said she too favors a third-party review.

“When the city has a vested interest, the citizens want to be certain we get that representation from an unbiased source,” Soliman told the Planning Board.

In a presentation, Claire Colburn of Finegold Alexander Architects, which designed the building, told Planning Board members the court house will be a “gateway to Biddeford.”

Colburn said the property was analyzed to make sure the sun wouldn’t cast shadows from the building onto neighboring properties, and added that a sound analysis had been conducted. She noted that parts of the roof closest to neighboring homes was just over 35 feet in height, the main part of the building is 56.6 feet high, and that the section with the mechanical systems, at 68.4 feet high, is positioned as far from the neighbors as possible. A privacy fence will be installed around the perimeter, and a gate at Hill Street for access for first responders, she said.

Two members of the Biddeford Conservation Commission expressed concerns.

Chrystina Gastelum said conservation commission members would like to see less impervious surface.

Conservation Commission member Richard Rhames pointed out there is a vernal pool on the property. Project engineer Doug Reynolds of Gorrill Palmer said the project impacts 13 percent of the 250-foot setback buffer around the vernal pool. When asked about stormwater drainage, Reynolds said there is an intention to have run off directed to a wet pond.

Other conservation commission concerns outlined in a May 6 letter included the building height, which the letter stated presents a potential for bird strikes, and recommended the use of bird safe glass. The commission expressed concern about drainage and runoff, given the project’s location in the Thatcher Brook watershed.

Planning Board Chairman William Southwick chided the Biddeford Conservation Commission for submitting its concerns six months after the board had begun to review the project. He said it would have been more helpful if they had done so earlier.

If the contract zone is approved, the York County Superior Court, which sits at the county-owned York County Court House in Alfred, and the district courts in state-owned facilities in Biddeford, Springvale and York, would close and move to the York Judicial Center. The Maine Judicial Branch has said consolidation will bring efficiency; courts in some counties in the state have already consolidated.

The county-owned courthouse in Alfred will remain open. It hosts the York County Probate Court, the registries of deeds and probate, the District Attorney’s Office and other county functions.

The judicial center was funded in 2016 through a bill sponsored by former Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco that allocated $65 million for the project. Later that year, a court site selection commission comprised of legislators, judges, law enforcement, attorneys and others chose the Elm Street (U.S. Route 1) site as the location for the new courthouse.

Project representatives said the project is expected to go to bid in two phases; the first, for site and foundation work, in August.

Those who have comment prior to the May 20 session may email: [email protected], or mail: Greg Tansley, Biddeford Planning Department, P.O. Box 58, Biddeford, ME 04005.

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