Emotions run high at comp plan meeting

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Emotions ran high at Monday’s Bridgton Comprehensive Plan Committee meeting, a week after the resignation of their professional planner, Alan Manoian. A no confidence vote against Manoian was taken in his presence, but only two members — Dick Danis and Glen “Bear” Zaidman — voted in favor, with six opposed and one abstention.

Manoian, the town’s director of Economic and Community Development, stated in his Nov. 15 resignation letter that he would be leaving Dec. 1, but volunteered a few days later to wait until Jan. 2, 2012, giving him more time to prepare final documents, said Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz.

Manoian said he was leaving to help care for his ailing mother in his hometown of Lowell, Mass. He did not cite any other reason.

The same day he gave his resignation, however, another letter came into the town office from the Comprehensive Plan Committee, voicing their “frustration and concern for the dysfunction” of Manoian’s role in the committee’s work because of a workload that “has taken his attention in diverse directions.” The committee had voted at their Nov. 14 meeting, without Manoian present, to send the letter, which was written by member Lucia Terry.

The letter stated that the committee felt “manipulated and back-burnered” by an “inconsistency of guidance and support” from Manoian. “It would appear that Alan’s time and attention is not able to be focused enough on our committee’s needs to accomplish the goals of his own schedule. Again and again, our process has been held up as he has not delivered the materials we need to work, causing confusion and frustration,” the letter stated.

Berkowitz met Friday with committee co-chairs Peter Morrison and Bob Wiser, along with member Ray Turner, who also serves on the Waste Water Committee. At Monday’s meeting, at the request of the co-chairs, Berkowitz briefed the committee on how he perceived Manoian’s role in working with them over the next month and a half.

Berkowitz said that by the time he left, Manoian would deliver 75% of the documents regarding form-based code elements that the committee needs for its regulating plan, as well as updating housing, population and economic descriptions for the comprehensive plan.

“You can then review it, do the public education needed and put it into a final form,” Berkowitz said. He said “some holes won’t get filled,” but that he hoped the committee could still deliver a draft comprehensive plan to the Board of Selectmen by March 22, to give them sufficient time for review and hearings so that the plan could be put before voters next June.

Berkowitz said Manoian would be available to attend “one or two” of the committee’s meetings, “But Peter and Bob will lead.” In addition, Berkowitz said he would be asking selectmen on Tuesday for guidance in terms of future professional planning services for the committee, either from the Greater Portland Council of Governments or a private professional planner.

Berkowitz said he hoped the committee could stay on track, with Morrison taking notes to meet public record requirements, even though the holidays were upon them and burnout may be a factor after nine months of meeting on an almost weekly basis.

Bear speaks up

On Tuesday, Manoian said he was very upset when Zaidman implied that he was lying about the reasons he could not attend the Nov. 14 meeting. But, Manoian acknowledged telling Zaidman he was concerned about whether Bridgton was ready for a form-based code regulatory system.

The reason, said Manoian, is that form-based codes are much more stringent and numerically specific in terms of what development is allowed. They are tailor-made to each street and each town. If the community does not fully understand and embrace the system before the codes are adopted, the system will not stand up to legal challenges from developers, he said.

“I told him I was concerned (about this) and wanted to address the committee about it,” Manoian said.

He also said he was concerned about the committee’s decision to propose form-based codes beyond the Portland Road corridor, because, again, each street requires specific design standards and cannot be simply “flipped over” and applied elsewhere, once the committee has completed work on Portland Road — as committee member Danis indicated when responding to a similar concern by former Selectman Earl Cash.

When Berkowitz finished, committee member Zaidman made the motion for a no confidence vote against Manoian, alleging that Manoian became upset after hearing about the committee’s decision to write the letter. He said Manoian told him that “he was tired of being played like a yo-yo” and that “Bridgton wasn’t ready for form-based codes.” Zaidman wondered how Manoian could write a regulating plan for the form-based code without first having the transects, or depths of the lots, defined.

Zaidman said the committee and Manoian were working well together until two months ago, when Manoian said he wanted to “speed things up” and would be writing the regulating plan.

“Everything stopped” at that point, Zaidman said.

Manoian disputed Zaidman’s comment, saying he reserved the right to clarify with the media some of the “gross misstatements of fact” in Zaidman’s recall of their conversation.

Berkowitz said Manoian would deliver the regulating plan by Jan. 2, and “whether you choose to use it is your business.” Later, he said he hoped members would “get beyond where they are” because of all the work they still needed to do to meet the mandate set by the board of selectmen.

“Quite frankly I don’t want Alan to be a free-range target” in working with the committee during his remaining time in Bridgton, Berkowitz said. If that’s the case, he added, “I’d just as soon say he not be there.”

Member Anne-Marie Amiel said the committee would be wasting its time continuing its work without expert planning help. “Our work will not stand and can be overturned” legally, she said. Amiel did not attend the meeting at which the committee voted to write the letter of concern, and said she would not have supported it, had she been present.

“Yes, he has had an overload of work, but he’s not going to have that now. His focus will be on providing us with what he said he would,” Amiel said.

Turner also was not present for that meeting, and said in a separate telephone interview that he, along with Wiser, also did not support the decision to send the letter.

“Alan has a really serious character flaw — he has the inability to say no, I ain’t gonna do it,” said Turner, noting that recently Manoian spent two weeks checking septic tanks, when the public works department could have done that. “What happened was that the town assigned so much work that it was impossible for him to perform adequately. I really feel bad about it.”

Member Fred Packard pointed out that the comprehensive plan would not contain specifics about form-based codes; when the committee completes that part of its mandate, it will deliver proposed amendments to the site plan review ordinance for the planning board to consider. As far as Manoian’s involvement was concerned, Packard said, ”I’ll listen to anybody.”

Most other members agreed that they had already voted as a body to go forward with form based codes as a means of clarifying design standards along the Portland Road commercial corridor. Former Selectman Earl Cash, from the audience, questioned why the committee had decided to extend the proposed standards all the way to the Naples town line, and also apply a form based code methodology to Bridgton’s other commercial gateways to the downtown.

Cash said he didn’t recall selectmen as having given the committee such a broad mandate. But members said they realized early on that the standards had the best chance of being approved if they were applied equally throughout town.

Member Dick Danis questioned the propriety of having Wiser, Morrison and Turner meet with Berkowitz, since more than two of them comprised a quorum. “It’s something I don’t want to see again,” he said. When Turner said he was meeting with Berkowitz in his capacity as chairman of the Waste Water Committee, Danis challenged Turner to describe what sewer business was discussed at that meeting.

“The leadership of this board is the board itself,” Danis said. But Berkowitz said that now that Manoian will not be acting as the board’s liaison, he needs to meet periodically with the co-chairs. “That how I deal with all our committees,” Berkowitz said.

Member Chuck Renneker said the issue of what constitutes a quorum, be it three members or a majority, still needs to be clarified.

The board then held a discussion of transects along Portland Road. They agreed to have Manoian research the merits of a proposal by Turner to gradually increase the distance back from the street that would be subject to form-based code from Pondicherry Square to the Naples line, from the lot size itself, to 125 feet, up to 200 feet.

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