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January 17, 2018

Damariscotta project, stalled by moratorium, moving ahead for a groundbreaking in spring

Courtesy / Commercial Properties
Courtesy / Commercial Properties
A 30,000-square-foot three-building mixed-use commercial project on Main Street in Damariscotta is poised for a spring ground-breaking, according to Commercial Properties CEO Dan Catlin, the developer.

Ground will likely be broken on a 30,000-square-foot three-building mixed-use commercial project on Main Street in Damariscotta this spring that had been stalled due to a temporary moratorium triggered by an unrelated project.

Commercial Properties CEO Dan Catlin, the developer, got caught in a development backlash in the 2,200-population town on U.S. Route 1, 25 miles north of Brunswick. From mid-summer until the Nov. 7 election, there was some question whether his project would be able to move forward.

A residents' petition for a moratorium on any development over 2,500 square feet had been approved by selectmen in August. Catlin's proposal was the only one before the planning board that would have been affected by the moratorium.

If the moratorium had passed in a November referendum, it would have been retroactive to June 7 and would have ended Dec. 4, with an option by the selectmen to continue it for another six months as the board's planning advisory committee reviewed the town's approach to commercial development.

But voters rejected the 2,500-square-foot limit, 420-358, on Nov. 7.

'Full speed ahead'

With the moratorium threat lifted, the project is moving forward.

The plan calls for a 22,000-square-foot building at the back of the 11-acre property at 435 Main St. that would have multiple retail tenants, a 5,525-square-foot building at the front of the property with two or three tenants, and 2,700-square-foot bank with a drive-through at the left front.

Catlin said, while it's premature to make any announcements, "We're definitely full speed ahead on the leasing side." Besides commercial tenants, the development is also designed for service-based business, like a dentist.

"We're getting a lot of interest and hope to sign leases in the near future," he said. He said a tenant for the bank building has "been involved in the process since Day 1."

One reason he liked the lot is that it's next door to a Hannaford supermarket, which draws the kind of customers that would also visit his complex. The businesses join several lumber retail companies and other stores on U.S. Route 1B, in zone designated for retail.

Catlin estimates businesses at site will create about 70 full- or part-time jobs, and generate in the range of $60,000 in tax revenue a year.

At public hearings last summer, before selectmen had approved the moratorium referendum, but after a quickly approved Dollar General/Sherwin Williams development a half mile north of Catlin's spurred concerns, Catlin agreed to add more landscaping, sidewalks and adjust facades.

The town has a requirement that parking not be in front of commercial buildings, but that requirement had been waived for the Dollar General/Sherwin Williams project.

Catlin's development will still have two rows of parking in front of the smaller commercial building, but it will be shielded from the road by a three-foot landscaped berm in front of the parking.

Hopes for spring

Town Manager Matt Lutkus said in October that Damariscotta officials and residents want to see more business in town, but are also concerned about the sudden interest from developers and where it will take them.

"The Dollar General-Sherwin Williams construction is not inconsistent with other structures in the area, but it is inconsistent with what we'd like to see in the future," Lutkus said at that time.

He said, however, that Catlin had done everything right, including approaching the town early on about the development in 2016 and finding out if was something the town wanted. It was.

Lutkus said, though, people were overwhelmed, pointing out there had been no development proposal in town for years and then there were two at once.

Last fall, Catlin said that he was surprised at the reaction to his development. He is the developer of the Topsham Fair Mall and other retail properties throughout Maine, and had never gotten that kind of pushback. "This is not a large retail project," he said then.

Now he is looking forward to what he hopes is a spring groundbreaking.

"We still have a lot of work to do," he said. "But things are happening."

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