DEP hearing continued until November

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The long and winding road of negotiating with the Department of Environmental Protection to relax downtown Bridgton’s shoreland zoning has been a lot like the winding downtown waters of Stevens Brook that the rules are designed to protect.

At times, things flow fast and hard, and at others they flow slowly and easily.

Town officials rushed late last year to get voter approval for a reduction in minimum lot sizes in the General Development District, in order to pave the way for Avesta Housing, Inc.’s affordable housing complex proposal on the former Chapter 11 property near Pondicherry Square. Soon after the vote, however, they learned the DEP didn’t agree with the way the changes were worded.

Both sides agreed that the 50,000-square-foot lot size minimum for property within 250 feet of the brook was outdated, and that a 5,000-square-foot lot size made more sense. The sticking point came over the town’s insistence that an “or 1,000-square-foot per bedroom” provision be added in the compact area on the south side of Pondicherry Square. The DEP initially rejected that wording, but then admitted, in February, that they had made an error, and that the town’s language would be allowed.

The town appealed the ruling anyway, wanting to protect its interests, and a May 3 hearing was set before the Board of Environmental Protection. But in the past few weeks, a continuance was granted, allowing the amendments to be sent to a November referendum.

The effect of the delay to Avesta’s plans, at first thought to be time-sensitive, is still unclear. Without the shoreland zoning changes, their plans cannot go forward, because the Chapter 11 site (which only partly lies within the shoreland zone) doesn’t have enough land to accommodate the 19 two-bedroom and 2 one-bedroom units they want to construct.

However, at a recent community meeting called by Avesta, the agency’s Development Director Deborah Keller said, “We’re very patient,” in response to a question on how long they could wait and still keep financial backing in place.

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