Comp planners can’t serve on other boards, selectmen rule

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

Residents who currently serve on appointed committees will be asked to step down from their posts if they want to serve on the new Comprehensive Plan Committee, the Board of Selectmen agreed Tuesday.

The new committee will hold its first meeting on Saturday, April 16, from 10 a.m. to noon in the downstairs meeting room of the Bridgton Municipal Complex. The public is encouraged to attend.

Residents Ray Turner and Scott Finlayson have agreed to co-chair the committee, leaving nine openings for a committee tasked with coming up with a new ordinance governing development rules along the hotly-contested stretch of Route 302 known as the Portland Road commercial corridor. Turner, who serves on the town’s Economic Development Committee, said Tuesday he will resign from that service group in order to focus on the comprehensive planning work.

The condition for serving on just one committee didn’t come without debate. Selectman Woody Woodward said that he’s aware of some concerns about possible conflicts of interest by allowing developers to serve on the Economic Development Committee, but asked, “If you want to talk about development, who better to have than a developer?” The board risks losing valuable “skill sets” if they try too hard to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest, he argued.

But Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said his big concern was to keep the process as transparent as possible. “We already know that this can be divisive,” referring to the sides taken by residents prior to the March 1 vote that failed to ban big box stores and fast food restaurants along the corridor. “We’re beginning to hear distrust, not trust,” from some residents concerned that the new committee will not be truly representative of all residents in town, he said.

“We want to make sure that the perceived issues that often plague a process like this are minimized,” Berkowitz said. Alan Manoian, director of the Office of Economic and Community Development, stressed that he wants the committee’s work to be a “citizen-participatory planning process” representing all residents.

Appointed town officials serving on town committees can still participate in a meaningful way by serving as “resource partners” to the comprehensive planning committee, whose remaining nine members will be appointed at the board’s next meeting on Tuesday, April 12. Those non-voting resource partners could possibly form subcommittees that would report back to the main committee with their ideas and recommendations, Manoian said.

The home page of the town’s website contains a link to an application that residents can use to apply if they want to serve on the committee. Those who have applied to date include Fred Packard, a planning board member, and Robert Murphy, brother of Economic Development Committee member Ken Murphy.

Finlayson said when the board makes its choices among applicants, he’d like them to consider where the person lives as well as the experience they bring, whether it be “on the economic side of things or the environmental side of things.”

Manoian said seasonal residents are “absolutely” eligible to apply to serve on the committee if they wish. “That type of balance would be beneficial,” he said. Seasonal residents will also be encouraged to participate in the two or three public “charettes” Manoian will be organizing later this spring and summer to discuss the merits of form-based codes versus traditional zoning regulations as a way to manage growth. The committee will also conduct “field walks” of the corridor.

“We’ll do this in a professional fashion,” Manoian said. “It’s going to be an intense process,” and he wants to do it in a “unified, structured way.”

Manoian has invited Stephanie Carver of the Greater Portland Council of Governments to the April 16 meeting to do a brief presentation, adding that Maine Department of Transportation officials will be there too. “The structure is very important because we have an ambitious timeline,” he said, to meet the selectmen’s charge of preparing an ordinance that voters can consider by the November elections.

In a related matter, members of the Economic Development Committee asked selectmen to respond to their new mission statement and give them feedback on how they’d like the committee to proceed. Chairman Art Triglione apologized for not including them on Tuesday’s agenda as he had indicated he would. The board had briefly discussed at an earlier meeting the possibility that committee members would need to be reappointed, and several members pointed out that they had sat in on meetings for a year or more and become de-facto members simply by virtue of their participation in the bi-weekly meetings.

Economic Development Committee member Mike Tarantino told the board there’s been some disagreement by members and Manoian over the committee’s mission, saying, “We’re going to need some direction” from the board on how to proceed.

Selectmen Doug Taft asked who would be the “point person” on the comprehensive planning process, and Berkowitz said, “Alan’s the man. Alan is the staff person who will coordinate the whole thing.”

Manoian responded, “Now, we seek the nine.”

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