CPC talks zoning with Bridgton Planning Board

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

An in-depth discussion of the need for a tactical plan to implement a town-wide land use ordinance, or zoning, dominated Monday’s joint meeting of the Bridgton Comprehensive Plan Committee and the Bridgton Planning Board.

No longer should the Planning Board be constrained by vague terminology requiring only that development be “harmonious” with existing uses, both boards agreed. For an updated Comprehensive Plan to mean anything at all, and not sit on the shelf, two things need to happen:

• Chapter 11, the Land Use section, should provide a clear, at times specific, framework for implementing the citizens’ vision for Land Use in the next decade.

• An implementation committee needs to get to work as soon as the Plan is approved to make sure those changes happen.

Monday’s meeting was the first chance for the Planning Board to comment on the CPC’s draft Future Land Use Plan. The plan includes a map showing rural, transitional and growth areas and the development constraints to be applied to each.

Making it happen

Planning Board Chairman Steve Collins applauded the CPC’s efforts to reach beyond the plan itself and “put teeth in the implementation” phase. He also said he didn’t see any big surprises in what the CPC has done, by recommending the designations of Downtown Village Business District, Downtown Village Neighborhood, Inner Corridor, Outer Corridor, Outer Village Neighborhood, Lakeside Neighborhood and Rural Neighborhood.

“It’s logical and reasonable, and it’s generally where we thought we’d like to go,” Collins said. He said he was on the 2000 Comprehensive Plan Committee, and while its vision was sound, “shame on us,” that committee “didn’t plan to make somebody own that plan.”

Planning Board members at Monday’s meeting, however, differed with the CPC in one of its suggestions. The CPC would like to empower the Planning Board to implement the management plan, rather than an ad-hoc committee created specifically for that purpose. Such a move would require an official change in the Planning Board’s authority.

Planning Board member Brian Thomas asked why the CPC wanted to make such a change.

“To facilitate and expedite,” answered CPC member Bill Vincent. Fellow CPC member Chuck Renneker added, “The Planning Board knows first and foremost when things need to be done,” as it is the town body that is most closely in touch with development patterns and trends.

But Collins said a committee wouldn’t take any longer than the Planning Board in crafting changes to zoning ordinances. Collins said the implementation committee should be comprised of one or two Planning Board members, who would act as liaisons to keep the board informed of the committee’s thinking and progress.

Collins did acknowledge that the question of who is to do the work is left open under Planning Board rules. The board just recently finished making revisions to several of the town’s ordinances as well as finalizing a new Fire Protection Ordinance. Member Dee Miller added that the Planning Board doesn’t do much encouraging, but is “rather reactive” in approach under its current charge and authority.

Special tools

Anne Krieg, Bridgton’s director of planning, economic and community development, said two common zoning tools are the use of a “streamlined permitting process” to encourage development in certain areas, and a “special use permit” in other cases where a certain type of development isn’t necessarily encouraged but could be allowed under a higher standard. Those tools could be included in the land use ordinance to allow for flexibility, she said.

Thomas said Bridgton’s standards for commercial development are not specific enough, in his opinion. He said he was hoping for more specificity in the CPC’s draft Land Use Plan.

“One of the problems is, it’s hard for us to say yes or no — we have to say yes all the time,” Thomas said.

“That’s why we’re trying to give the Planning Board more latitude,” answered Vincent.

Renneker said that regardless of how the town decides to manage land use, “the state is going to call it zoning,” and that the last time Bridgton had zoning, it was too restrictive.

Planning Board member Mike Figoli said the idea of zoning for Bridgton seems quite appropriate to him. “I’m not afraid of the word (zoning) at all,” Figoli said. “It gives us constraints to work with, instead of being wishy-washy.”

At community meetings, the CPC heard from South Bridgton residents that they didn’t want junkyards, and that North Bridgton residents would like to see a variety store open in their neighborhood, said CPC member Glen “Bear” Zaidman. It’s important, therefore, for whoever will be implementing the recommendations in the Comprehensive Plan to also conduct neighborhood meetings “to find out what they want.”

Krieg explained that for any zoning ordinance to be legally enforceable, its tenets must be included in the Comprehensive Plan. “You can keep it general,” but “if there are (specific) things you want to recommend, you have to have it in (the Comprehensive Plan).”

Owning the plan

Renneker said that three years ago, when the CPC first began its work, the focus under the former planner was on form-based codes to guide development on the major arteries leading to downtown. Form-based codes focus more on appearance than use, he said, and as the CPC’s thinking evolved, the committee came to the conclusion that “We think that Bridgton needs to develop our own management plan.”

CPC Secretary Lucia Terry asked for feedback from Planning Board members on the CPC’s recommendation for development of a comprehensive growth management plan.

Collins answered, “This is as an effective a thing as you can do,” and then hope residents embrace it when it’s brought before them in upcoming public forums. The CPC will be finalizing the plan in the near future and presenting it to selectmen, who are in turn expected to put it on the warrant for a town-wide vote in November.

When Zaidman asked the Planning Board if adoption of zoning would allow them to do their job better, the immediate response from several members was an enthusiastic “yes.” Planning Board member Fred Packard cited, as example, the headaches involved when Avesta Housing, Inc., proposed apartments on a downtown lot that was divided into three zones. “And all on one acre,” said Packard. “It doesn’t make any sense.” He added that the kinds of transition zones proposed in the CPC’s draft land use plan make sense because “you don’t draw a line in the sand, and say this goes here, that goes there.”

Packard’s comments sparked a discussion citing the need to work with the state to have Shoreland Zoning rules amended for the downtown to allow rehabilitation of buildings that are falling into disrepair.

Krieg said that it’s typical for land use ordinances arising out of a Comprehensive Plan to be adopted within two years after the plan is approved.

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