Comprehensive Plan Committee broadens charge

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

Bridgton’s new Comprehensive Plan Committee has broadened its charge from selectmen from a strict focus on Portland Road to include all of Route 302 from the Naples to the Fryeburg town lines, as well as Route 117 to the Harrison town line.

They did so to ensure that there will be consistency in the development standards they will be recommending, while realizing their primary focus will still need to stay on Portland Road if they are to deliver amendments to the site plan review ordinance as promised in time for a November vote.

Cart before the horse?

At their first meeting on May 2, member Greg Watkins had concerns about “putting the cart before the horse” by focusing only on Portland Road, where pressures from national chain stores and fast food restaurants are greatest. Selectmen created the committee following the March 1 referendum, in which residents decisively defeated proposed bans on fast-food restaurants and big box stores along the corridor.

The committee considered asked selectmen to attend one of their meetings and help them clarify their charge, since there was disagreement among several members about what they were supposed to do, and concern that the state would not support a comprehensive plan developed from a “spot-zoning” approach.

Co-chairman Ray Turner said the town delayed action on imposing stricter regulations along Portland Road following passage of the 2004 comprehensive plan, and “now the barbarians are at the gate and we don’t have sufficient protection.” He reminded member Fred Packard that the town already had an approved comprehensive plan, and that the amendments would be based on that.

Packard responded, “that’s one opinion,” and reminded others that a conventional comprehensive plan typically takes up to two years to complete. He said it was his opinion that residents, during debate leading up to the referendum, wanted the town to focus on impacts to the downtown stretch of Route 302. He added that there were parcels along Route 302 west that would appeal to motel developers, and those concerns should not be ignored.

“One of (those parcels) is large enough to become a Marriott” Hotel, he said. “That’s as much a possibility as something happening on (the Portland Road),” adding that a 50-unit motel-hotel is planned along Route 302 in Windham.

Member Chuck Renneker said it just made sense to include all the town’s major gateways in the committee’s review.

Alan Manoian, Bridgton’s Director of Economic and Community Development who is providing staff direction to the committee, said the selectmen’s charge, as outlined in a memo from Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz following the board’s March 15 workshop, referred to the creation of “standards that would be applied to the Route 302 corridor for future development” and offered as an amendment to the site plan review ordinance. It was left to the committee to decide whether “the Route 302 corridor” would include the entire stretch, or just Portland Road.

Manoian said “If we develop a good development pattern for one, we can replicate it for the others.”

Member Dick Danis’s motion, to have a selectman attend one of their meetings to see if the board wanted to include the downtown and the whole Route 302 corridor, died for lack of a second. Renneker then moved to set the project boundaries along the whole Route 302 corridor and Route 117, and his motion passed unanimously.

Form-based codes

At their third and fourth meetings, the committee got a taste of some of the thorny issues they will be confronting with landowners if they recommend form-based codes for the Portland Road corridor, which transitions gradually from rural near the Naples line to more urban near the Portland Road bridge. The committee hasn’t yet decided whether to propose form-based codes or more traditional, “Euclidian” zoning, where areas are designated as rural, residential or commercial, and each use is considered independently of its relationship to neighboring buildings.

Under form-based codes, the corridor would be divided into “transects,” or zones, transitioning from rural to urban, based on their proximity to the downtown. The committee spent much of Monday’s meeting mapping proposed transects along the corridor, using largescale maps overlaid with tracing paper.

The development standards for an urban transect stretch of the road would be designed to attract either two- or three-story commercial development of similar architectural style, similar build-to lines, with parking mostly on the sides and in the rear. In more rural transects, development would be generally discouraged.

“How do we say your land is no longer available as a commercial lot” because it’s located near the Naples line, wondered Watkins. Manoian said that one of the “realities” the committee will be facing is that their work may indeed change the value of some land along the corridor. Packard said such changes will almost certainly result in a lawsuit, but added that “Mother Nature” often dictates whether a parcel is suitable for development. “There’s almost a mile (of Route 302, going south from Packard Hill, that is simply not buildable” because it is too wet, he said.

Member Ann-Marie Amiel said “Whichever way we go, we’re going to have to be willing to stand by that decision,” and “that total freedom is something you give up when you live in a community, and we might as well face that.”

But Manoian said the codes discourage sprawl, “which is unsustainable from a taxpayer perspective.” They also provide the basis for mixed-use neighborhoods that are walkable, and are in keeping with the state’s “smart growth” principles that were embraced in the 2004 comprehensive plan.

“With conventional usebased zoning, you have a colorcoded zoning map. They hammer out each one, site plan by site plan. It really makes it hard on planning boards,” Manoian said. With form-based codes “the buildings define the street. It’s laying it out visually — developers love it.” A certain street type can be defined, for example, from the Portland Road bridge to Mt. Henry Road, with another street type further on down, he said.

“The street is transitioning on the same street,” and residential and commercial uses are in places “at war with each other,” he said.

Co-Chair Scott Finlayson wasn’t convinced formbased codes were the way to go. “What’s to prevent a McDonald’s from coming on Church Street,” where he lives, he asked.

Manoian said “the national franchises of the world need a certain functional form. They’re naturally going to gravitate toward” the more urban sections of Portland Road.

Packard said the town’s current site plan review ordinance served the town pretty well when a garage repair shop proposal was rejected for Fowler Street. “He lost out on traffic safety and not being compatible,” Packard said.

But Turner pointed out that the applicant didn’t appeal the board’s ruling, and if he had, it’s unsure whether the town would have won the case. “The town would lose at the higher level. That’s my opinion,” Turner said.

Manoian said the town could choose to allow for a “transfer of development rights” as a way to compensate landowners unable to attract the big developers to a more rural parcel. “It’s a decision the people will have to make for the sake of this town,” he said.

The committee agreed it was important to set aside time for public comment at their meetings, held every Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the municipal complex. They set a 10-minute public comment period for 7 p.m. at each meeting, and directed Manoian to arrange for the meetings to be recorded and possibly also covered by Lake Region Television.

They also set a date for the first in a series of public citizen participatory charettes to get feedback on the ideas they are discussing. The first charette will be held on Saturday, June 18, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Bridgton Community Center.

Please follow and like us: