Downtown amendment set for public hearing Tuesday

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Some say the Site Plan Review Ordinance amendment, that will go before Bridgton voters in June, protects the traditional pattern of mixed use development that gives downtown Main Street its special charm. Others say the amendment unfairly restricts redevelopment options for property owners who may either need or want to live on the first floor, or who are unable to rent it commercially.

So, who’s right? Who’s wrong? Which makes the most sense?

Come to the public hearing being held by the selectmen Tuesday, April 10, at 6 p.m., and decide for yourself.

The language for the amendment was reviewed over four meetings by the Bridgton Planning Board at the request of the Comprehensive Plan Committee, which brought the idea directly to them on Feb. 28, drawing the ire of selectmen who felt they went beyond their authority. The idea originated from Committee member Glen “Bear” Zaidman, who proposed it at their Feb. 27 meeting after saying, “I’ve been thinking about what’s been going on.”

Despite including a retroactivity clause reaching back to Feb. 20, 2012, Zaidman denies the amendment was proposed in response to plans by Avesta Housing, Inc. to build a 21-unit, three-story affordable housing complex on a prime piece of real estate near Pondicherry Square. When the housing plans were first announced last October, former Economic and Community Development Director Alan Manoian said Avesta planned to build a three-story building on Main Street with commercial space on the ground floor. That mixed-use description led residents on Dec.13 to approve reductions in minimum lot sizes in the downtown Shoreland Zone that Avesta needed to make the project economically feasible. Residents later learned the building would not have ground floor commercial space, after all.

The amendment would add a new special regulation governing site plan reviews within a new Village Center District. The board used a draft map drawn up by Zaidman to define the properties within the district as those along Main Street from Main Hill to the Kansas Road, all of Depot Street including the former Memorial School, and a short stretch of Portland Road to Maple Street.

The amendment requires that the ground floor of properties on parcels of 20,000 square feet or larger “shall be used for retail, office, business or professional use,” and exempts home-based occupations. The district has around 37 such lots, and approximately a dozen of these larger lots currently have no mixed use and would be grandfathered. Single-family property owners on these larger lots would be prohibited from converting their homes into multifamily properties with apartments on the ground floor.

Few concerns or little opposition have been raised publicly about the amendment, which is supported by the CPC, the Community Development Committee and the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation. One notable exception was Selectman Woody Woodward, who came to the planning board’s March 22 public hearing with a list of seven concerns, including: the amendment’s potential conflict with the current Comprehensive Plan; obstacles to the elderly and disabled; restrictions to developers; impacts to far more properties than presented; application of Euclidian Zoning use restrictions over more development-friendly Form-Based Codes; and premature in terms of being proposed before a new Comprehensive Plan is finalized.

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