BIDDEFORD — The York Judicial Center proposed for 511-515 Elm St. needs one further vote from the Biddeford City Council to move forward.

In a narrow 5-4 vote June 16, the City Council supported the State of Maine’s request for a contract zone for the courthouse, which consolidates and replaces the three Maine district courts, in Biddeford, Springvale and York, and the superior court, which sits in the county-owned courthouse in Alfred. The consolidation is aimed at creating efficiencies in Maine’s court system.

Some councilors expressed interest in hearing more about the third-party review process outlined in the city’s codes, which neighbors requested of the Planning Board and of the City Council. A vote to explore that issue was defeated, but it may to be brought up again as some councilors  said they wanted to know more about the process.

A contract zone would be required for the courthouse to move forward, because the building is nearly twice the 35-foot maximum height allowed in the zone. With the so-called “penthouse” attachment that contains heating and cooling equipment at the top of the proposed structure, the height is 68.5 feet.

Council President John McCurry pointed out that the sole requirement for a contract zone for the project was the height issue, and had the project been within the 35-foot height restriction, no contract would have been needed.

Voting their initial support were councilors Marc Lessard, Michael Ready, William Emhiser, Stephen St. Cyr, and McCurry. Dissenting were councilors Robert Quattrone, Norman Belanger, Doris Ortiz and Amy Clearwater.

The request for a contract zone was approved by the Planning Board on May 20.

The Planning Board found the project for the 120,000-square-foot building, which has a 34,545-square-foot footprint, to be consistent with the comprehensive plan and found it would not negatively impact existing or permitted uses within the original zone.

The building is to be constructed on property formerly owned by the city at 511-515 Elm St. (known informally as the former Pate property) and 384 Hill St. The city sold the property to the Maine Governmental Facility Authority in 2017 for $810,000.

Neighbors have expressed concern on several issues, including stormwater runoff, lighting, landscaping and others, and the Biddeford Conservation Commission outlined concern about possible effects on the Thatcher Brook watershed.

Neighbor Sterling Roop, who has been among those expressing concern about the courthouse project, asked the City Council to authorize a third-party review, given what he described as “vested interests.”

“I hope you’ll make the choice to make sure all the steps and all the due diligence is done before this project moves forward,” said Roop during the council’s June 16 public hearing.

Later that evening, City Manager Jim Bennett noted that state has no remaining financial obligation to the city. He said the issue of third-party review was raised primarily because the city had owned the land. He pointed out the state paid the city at closing in 2017.

Another resident, Judy Jurevic, said she believes the lot is too small for the building project.

“This is a very nice, safe, lovely neighborhood,” said Jurevic, adding people will “hang out in parking lots, smoking, and be coming essentially  (within) five feet of the lots of the neighbors that abut it.”

Claire Colburn of Finegold Alexander Architects said several changes have been made, including efforts to protect the tree line, increasing the length of the privacy fence around two sides of the project, and directing stormwater onto city-owned property across the street.

City Planner Greg Tansley noted the third-party review provision is unique to Biddeford and was included in the ordinance when the city adopted contract zoning. He said the third-party review provision is vague, and poorly written.

The Biddeford City Council is poised to hold a second and final vote on the project at their July 7 meeting.

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