October 20, 2021
BANGOR DAILY NEWS (BANGOR, MAINE

Soup kitchen site decision delayed until zoning board appeal heard

BANGOR — The Planning Board on Tuesday approved a site development plan for Manna Inc., but delayed the effective date of that approval for more than a week.

While approving plans to expand the six-space parking lot to 14 spaces, the board granted the wish of the Center Street Neighborhood Association to make the approval effective only after the next Zoning Board of Appeals meeting.

The association Monday asked the Zoning Board of Appeals to reconsider its decision affirming that Manna’s soup kitchen is a permitted use in the neighborhood. The board must act on that request within 30 days of its initial action, which occurred Nov. 16. Therefore, at its Dec. 14 meeting, the board first must decide whether to reconsider the issue and, if it does so, then it will revisit the question of whether community service organizations such as Manna are permitted in the Center Street neighborhood.

If the board affirms its initial decision, Manna’s site plans will be approved as of Dec. 15. Manna must secure approval of the parking lot expansion by Jan. 1 to be granted a permanent certificate of occupancy for its 180 Center St. location. It is operating under a temporary certificate which is contingent upon the parking situation being improved.

Neighborhood residents asked for the delayed approval so that Manna would not have a “vested interest to hang its hat on,” said association member Dick Cattelle.

The neighborhood association has contended all along that a soup kitchen is not a permitted use within the Center Street neighborhood service district zone. The ZBA disagreed and upheld the code enforcement officer’s finding that Manna is a community service organization and is, therefore, permitted in that neighborhood.

Manna’s attorney, Tom Shehan, expressed frustration at the continuing legal battle that has plagued the soup kitchen in its new location.

“They had a shot before the City Council. They had a shot before the ZBA,” he said. “Now they’ve got a lawyer and they’re running it through the mill again.

“They’re just wasting the city’s time. They’re just wasting Manna’s time. We don’t feel its fair. We don’t feel its appropriate,” Shehan told the planning board.

While some board members did express concern that a delay might hurt Manna, a vote for delayed approval of the site plan was unanimous.

In a related issue, the Planning Board began a discussion of community service organizations and their treatment under the city’s land development code. The battle over Manna’s new home centered on its designation, by the code enforcement officer, as a community service organization. Under the city’s current policy, such organizations are allowed in neighborhood service districts such as the one on Center Street.

Planning officer John Lord said he was concerned that neighborhood service districts are spread throughout the city and are often mixed in with single-family residential areas.

He suggested that his staff narrow the definition of such districts to fit modern standards of neighborhood service.

The Planning Board also directed city staff to rework the definition of community service organization to take into account the type of activity an organization undertakes. For example, an organization that serves walk-in clients should not be treated the same as one that simply had its administrative offices in a neighborhood.


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