Board considers ground-floor commercial only for Main Street development

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The Bridgton Planning Board agreed Tuesday to consider amending the Site Plan Review Ordinance to require developers of mixed use property on Main Street of 20,000 square feet or greater to reserve the ground level for commercial use only, retroactive as of Feb. 20, 2012.

The amendment, which originated with a recommendation crafted Monday by the Comprehensive Plan Committee, would require Avesta Housing, Inc. to change its plans for a 21-unit affordable housing complex on the former Chapter 11 property. Currently, Avesta has no plans to reserve its ground floor for commercial use, citing economic requirements of its investors to make the project feasible.

The Avesta project was not mentioned once during discussion of the amendment by the board, who listened to arguments in its favor by Bear Zaidman and Chuck Renneker, two members of the Comprehensive Plan Committee and Community Development Committee member and developer Mark Lopez. Also in attendance was Tom McCarthy, owner of the Big Kahuna building located near the Chapter 11 property.

“I think this is the best thing that’s ever come out of a committee with people who have skin in the game,” McCarthy said.

Board members appeared willing enough to consider the amendment, which would be included with other site plan review amendments being prepared to go before voters in the June town meeting. But they stopped short of endorsing its language until further refinements can be made at a workshop next Tuesday, March 6. They tentatively agreed to hold a public hearing on the amendment on Tuesday, March 20, at 7 p.m., after which the language would be sent to the Board of Selectmen for their own public hearing.

The Comprehensive Plan Committee’s recommended amendment, passed unanimously by 10 members Monday, reads as follows:

“In keeping with the current Comprehensive Plan which states that Main Street be developed for COMMERCE, the Comprehensive Plan Committee recommends to the Planning Board that they prepare an amendment to the Site Plan Review Ordinance, which will require any development done on Main Street and in the General Development Districts, on a lot size of 20,000 square feet or greater to be for commercial or mixed use. Where the development is mixed use, that portion of the development which fronts on any street shall be for commercial use only on the ground level and this amendment shall be retroactive as of February 20, 2012. This amendment will be presented to the voters at the town meeting in June of 2012.”

Board Chairman Steve Collins told Zaidman and Renneker to have their committee more clearly define what properties would be affected by the change by producing a map. Currently, the General Development I and II Districts are only cited in the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance, and not the Site Plan Review Ordinance, member Dee Miller pointed out. Collins said he believed there are only a handful of properties — perhaps four or five — that would come under the 20,000 square foot threshold in order to be grandfathered from having to abide by the change.

Board Alternate Roxanne Hagerman pointed out that the Bridgton House, on Main Hill, has a larger-than-20,000 square foot lot and would be impacted by the change.

Zaidman said his committee feels that it comes under their purview to bring forth recommendations that would implement the existing, 2004 Comprehensive Plan — which everyone agrees was not implemented. Renneker added that the amendment comes under the committee’s charge of developing design standards for the Main Street and Portland Road commercial corridor.

Asked whether the retroactivity clause in the proposal would be legal, Lopez said he was confident it would be. “I have a lot of experience looking into that,” he said, referring to the failed citizen referendum that contained a retroactivity clause that would have prevented his development of a McDonald’s restaurant on the Portland Road.

Code Enforcement Officer Robby Baker said the board needed to keep in mind the “what-if” scenarios of the proposed amendment and how it might impact a residential property owner who, for example, wanted to build an addition on the side of their house.

The board has also been working on other amendments to the Site Plan Review Ordinance. They decided not to make any changes to the current noise limit level of 70 decibels but to relax requirements for developers in obtaining paperwork to prove that they have notified abutters.

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