Comp planners begin visioning

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The Bridgton Comprehensive Plan Committee wants everyone to be on the same page as it prepares a draft form-based code for downtown Bridgton and the Portland Road.

To that end, the committee has called for a joint meeting on Jan. 12, 2012 with selectmen, the planning board and wastewater committee members that will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the selectmen’s meeting room at the Bridgton Municipal Complex. At that time, officials will review the preliminary form-based code ordinance for Bridgton that will be submitted by Alan Manoian, the town’s economic and community development director, prior to his resignation effective Jan. 2.

On Monday, committee members worked on updating the sections of the 2004–2005 comprehensive plan that selectmen charged them with changing, to reflect current demographics and economic data.

Members agreed that the existing plan was a well-written document that still reflects the community’s vision, but that it will still need to be rewritten.

Some of the work will need to await the outcome of the Dec. 13 referendum on lot size reductions in the downtown district, members agreed. But they were nonetheless able to hold a general discussion about the plan’s vision statement.

“We have the same discussion with the community development committee — what does Bridgton want to be?” said member Chuck Renneker. He and Peter Morrisson, the committee’s co-chair, have created a new website, www.obwmc.com, to provide an online forum discussion about Bridgton’s future.

Renneker said an updated comprehensive plan should be written within the context of developing technology and the new opportunities it provides. Member Ray Turner noted that the “three-ring binder” project of constructing high-speed data transmission lines will be completed by next summer in Bridgton, and will enable the establishment of new businesses in town that can conduct global commerce.

Member Fred Packard said the new plan should emphasize the role of the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation in attracting new businesses to town. He also said the current plan’s description of Bridgton’s market area is too narrowly defined; a sampling of the zip codes of customers who shop at Hannaford, for example, would show that “we have a far bigger market area” than is commonly perceived.

Renneker agreed. “Bridgton is the hub of a wheel, just by virtue of the lakes and the lay of the land,” he said.

Former selectman Earl Cash, from the audience, commented that Bridgton made a mistake in the 1960s and 1970s by curtailing its business attraction efforts after it was able to attract the former Bridgton Knitting Mill, which has since closed.

Member Dick Danis said Bridgton has “been stagnant for 30 years” and only recently has it seen signs of new activity. He said it will be important for the town to have form-based codes in place to attract and guide new development.

Selectman Doug Taft said more needs to be done to promote Bridgton as a destination. “We have one of the most beautiful towns in the area, that we don’t promote positively,” he said.

Renneker said the Community Development Committee has created a publicity subcommittee, as well as a funding subcommittee, the latter of which can potentially help secure grants to train the local workforce to meet the needs of technology-based business.

Member Greg Watkins repeated his suggestion that a survey be done to poll residents on their vision for the future of Bridgton.

“This is a pretty good document,” Bear Zaidman agreed, referring to the current comprehensive plan. “It just needs a little tweaking and updating,” he said.

Watkins said the plan’s problem was not in the wording, but in the execution of its recommendations — there was little follow-up.

Cash suggested that when it comes to hiring Manoian’s successor, it might be advisable to define the job as more of a planner than an economic development director.

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