Pembroke becomes latest Maine town to put a moratorium on development
The LLCs associated with Severine von Tscharner Fleming own 12 properties in Pembroke, including a 131-acre farm, another 58-acre property that includes a blueberry cart, a 50-acre property and several smaller parcels.
Pembroke voters approved a six-month moratorium on new non-residential housing over concerns over a resident who bought 12 lots and has opened a farm shop and other businesses in the Washington County town in recent years.
By a majority of 66 to 8, voters at a special city meeting on Wednesday approved a moratorium, saying the city “was suddenly faced with the prospect of increased development pressures.” The measure says residents are concerned that new developments could pose “a threat to the quality of life, adjacent property values and the health and safety” of the city.
The moratorium – like others enacted in cities across the country – is to give Pembroke time to write and pass planning ordinances to regulate the state’s new development, a city official said. It could end sooner than six months if planning regulations are finalized sooner.
It was approved over the objections of Severine von Tscharner Fleming, who has acquired hundreds of acres of land through multiple LLCs and affiliated organizations since 2017.
“This sweeping moratorium was announced by the Selectmen on one of the coldest nights of winter, with no public notice and no public hearing, just a week before it was due to be voted on at a hastily convened special city meeting,” Fleming wrote on Facebook, just before Pembroke voters approved the measure on Wednesday.
In an interview, Fleming said she faced a “culture of misogyny and condescension” and “bullying” as she tried to set up her businesses and get permits from Pembroke. Her attorney said the moratorium will not affect her upcoming plans to reopen a farm shop and open a commercial kitchen.
The daughter of two prominent urban planners, Fleming is an agricultural activist, documentary filmmaker and community organizer. She is the director of a grassroots organization for young farmers called Greenhorns.
The LLCs associated with Fleming own a 131-acre farm, another 58-acre property that includes a blueberry barren, a 50-acre property, and several smaller parcels. Another organization owns a former Odd Fellows hall from 1896, which now houses a library of books on agriculture.
In Pembroke she has opened a farm shop, a canteen kitchen, a campsite and a seaweed farm, among other things. Last year, her Smithereen Farm received a $370,482 federal grant to create a “comprehensive local food center” featuring Maine produce.
Fleming said she sees her efforts as economic development that encourages local, organic farming, but the multitude of projects and ideas has sparked resentment from some local residents.
“No one here asked her to help her,” Tony Bennett, the chairman of Pembroke’s planning committee, said in an interview in December.
Robin Hadlock Seeley, a leading critic of Fleming, added: “I don’t like participating in someone else’s experiment of taking over a city.”
Some residents and city officials have also expressed concern about potential environmental damage from a septic tank system as part of a commercial kitchen planned by Fleming. Her attorney said they are working with state and local officials to address the concerns.
In addition, following a complaint from a city official, the state fire marshal inspected two of the properties and wrote a letter last month to Fleming requesting state building permits. She said she presented a design plan to address the issues raised by the firefighter. “We fully comply with state laws,” she said.
Pembroke’s tree oratorium was promoted by the town planning authority and select representatives. Bennett said the temporary halt will give the city time to investigate gaps between the building ordinance and the coastal zone ordinance.
But Aga Dixon, Fleming’s lawyer, said the moratorium was too broad and could hamper other commercial developments and businesses in the city. She said Pembroke officials had done a “really poor job” of developing a public process to educate voters about the measure.
Dixon said the moratorium would not slow Fleming’s plans to operate the farm shop and commercial kitchen. They plan to reopen the farm shop in the spring.
The Maine Monitor reported last month that voters in cities across the state have enacted temporary moratoria to slow down major developments. Cities have used the method to develop regulations solar parks, wind turbines And aqua farms, separations and other major projects giving cities time to review what regulations they have and what they may need to adopt.
In Columbia Falls, city officials have spent several months putting together a proposed moratorium on development, holding a public meeting on the measure, and conducting a survey of residents. This proposal came after the Worcester family proposed a $1 billion “Flagpole of Freedom” park development for Columbia Falls.
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