Comp Plan, Manoian reconcile, reevaluate timeline

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

CUTLINE: Bridgton Economic and Community Development Director Alan Manoian brought his prized 1971 Mosrite guitar to Monday’s Comprehensive Plan Committee meeting to explain that the form-based code he’ll be delivering to Bridgton will be all but complete, except for the values-based fine-tuning that it’s up to the public to provide. (Geraghty Photo)

The Bridgton Comprehensive Plan Committee is considering seeking yet another extension — this time for a year, until March of 2013 — before delivering a form-based code document for Bridgton.

Coming on the heels of a controversial failed March 1, 2011 petition to ban big box stores and fast food restaurants on Portland Road, selectmen had initially wanted the committee to deliver site plan amendments for the corridor in time for a November vote, to protect the town’s traditional New England character and charm. But once the committee agreed to endorse a form-based code approach as endorsed by Bridgton Director of Economic and Community Development, Alan Manoian, it became clear that they would need more time to do the job right — since a big part of the form-based code approach involves citizen participation to make sure the standards truly reflect the town’s unique character.

It took the committee five months of weekly meetings since April just to get comfortable talking amongst each other in terms of transects and build-to lines; how could they expect Bridgton residents who rejected traditional zoning in the 1980s to embrace something as unfamiliar as form-based codes?

Several months ago, Selectmen agreed to extend the referendum date on the Portland Road site plan review ordinance revisions to June 2012. The committee, reasoning that development pressures might shift elsewhere if form-based codes were only applied to one corridor, voted to also develop form-based codes for the downtown, Route 117 headed toward Harrison, Route 302 west to the Fryeburg line, and Route 302 east to the Naples line, beyond what is traditionally referred to as Portland Road.

On Monday, debate over extending the deadline for form-based code submission began when member Dick Danis moved that it be extended to March 2013. Member Ann-Marie Amiel immediately objected to the idea.

“We already have some potential developers lined up (on the Portland Road) whose plans may not at all be in keeping with what the committee is trying to do,” Amiel said. The committee is looking at extending the traditional New England village development pattern of the downtown up Portland Road from Pondicherry Square to Mt. Henry Road, with on-street parking and buildings close to the sidewalk, with parking in the back. The pattern would gradually get more automobile-oriented after Willett Road, but development standards and design elements would still be spelled out in detail.

At best, she said, waiting an additional year to tighten the rules would mean that Bridgton would “lose ground” in its efforts to have development standards reflect the town’s wishes. At worst, Amiel said, “it would be extremely dangerous,” apparently referring to a type or scale of development totally out of character to what Bridgton has known. Then, too, she added, if the process of creating new standards is delayed too long “we may lose people” who might otherwise like to be involved.

Member Greg Watkins, who seconded Danis’s motion, acknowledged that Portland Road “is on the verge of a major turnover” in growth. But without taking enough time to “cross all our i’s and dot all our t’s, we’re destined to fail.” And it takes a lot of time to educate people, he said, so that not only will they understand the basic mechanics of how the code works to guide growth, they can embrace it as something unique, created just for Bridgton.

Manoian pointed out that very few towns that have tackled form-based codes in Maine and New England thus far (the codes have only been around since 2006) have tried to apply them townwide. Most towns target creation of a form-based code for one stretch of highway corridor and its accompanying side streets to a depth of one block.

When he officially ends his employment as Bridgton’s planner on Jan. 2, Manoian will be delivering a form-based code for Portland Road, from the bridge over Stevens Brook to the Naples line, and for Downtown Main Street, from Main Hill to Pondicherry Square. The code will also include street, building and parking standards for side streets, going one block deep, both in the downtown and on Portland Road.

While a majority of members appeared to be in favor of delaying delivery of the document for a year, the committee tabled action on the motion until after they’ve had a chance to study the codes as Manoian has promised them, at a 75% level of completion. The codes to be delivered on Jan. 2 will include the regulating plan, which are the design standards for each transect, or section of street, laid out on a map and color-coded to show what standards are allowed for parking setbacks, build-to lines and so forth.

Manoian said it usually takes two to three years for a town to formulate a form-based code. It took three years for it to be done in the neighboring town of Standish, where he served for a year as a technical consultant for the drafting of a form-based code along its busy Main Street, Route 25. The Standish code passed successfully, unlike in Damariscotta, where a committee worked on the code for at least two years but were hurt by charges of a conflict of interest by a developer.

Monday’s meeting had none of the contentious atmosphere of the previous meeting, when member Bear Zaidman called for a vote of no confidence against Manoian (the vote failed). Before Monday’s meeting began, Manoian asked the chairman for a few minutes.

He then stood up, walked to the other side of the long table to where Zaidman was sitting, and shook his hand. He told members he and Zaidman had met earlier in the day and resolved their differences, which Manoian acknowledged arose when he’d put other projects, mainly sewer inspections, ahead of the work he’d promised to provide to the committee.

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