Joint session to discuss form-based code

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The draft changes to design standards along the Portland Road and Main Street in Bridgton are done, and now the hard work begins.

A joint meeting has been set for Thursday, Jan. 12, at 6:30 p.m. at the Bridgton Municipal Complex for the Comprehensive Plan Committee, the Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen to discuss the next steps, now that departing Economic and Community Development Director Alan Manoian has delivered a draft form-based code as promised. If an expected snowstorm forces a postponement, the meeting will be rescheduled to the following Thursday, Jan. 19.

The document is the result of nine months of near-weekly meetings of the Comprehensive Plan Committee, following a directive from selectmen to draft better standards for the site plan review ordinance. The changes were warranted by last year’s controversy over plans to build a McDonald’s restaurant and the perceived lack of protections in the current ordinance for preserving Bridgton’s unique small-town character.

The draft standards would regulate land development by establishing a series of traditional New England transect districts along Bridgton’s Portland Road and Main Street corridor. The districts would each have their own development standards ranging from a more compact and walkable village center (in the downtown) to a more disperse and drivable suburban and rural road pattern out near Sandy Creek to the Naples town line.

As stated in Manoian’s introduction, the standards both preserve and improve Bridgton’s traditional New England growth pattern “by setting careful and coherent controls on building form as it relates to (and addresses) the street frontage type, while retaining flexible parameters relative to building use.”

In other words, instead of focusing on the type of use, as with the current site plan review ordinance, the standards focus instead on where the buildings and the parking are located, relative to the street. In the downtown, from Main Hill to Maple Street, just beyond Pondicherry Square, the buildings would be required to be placed close to the sidewalk, with parking in the rear. Entrances must face front, and windows must be prominent. Beyond Maple Street, the standards gradually bow more and more to ease of vehicular access and traffic flow.

“A clear sense of identity will be established for each Transect/Frontage District,” which are designated as Traditional Center (downtown), Traditional Neighborhood (Maple Street to around Hannaford), Traditional Flex (Hannaford to Sandy Creek) and Conventional Auto (to the Naples line).

Two design charettes were held with the public prior to the drafting of the standards. However, the public’s input is even more necessary now that the draft standards are in place, Manoian said.

“It’s critically important now that the largest and most well thought-out forums are held now, sooner than later,” in order to legitimize the standards as reflecting the will of the people, he said. Manoian said he purposely did not try to develop standards for the side streets off Main Street, since they are primarily residential and need the public’s input from the beginning. “When you get into residential neighborhoods, you must have the people directly involved,” he said.

Manoian acknowledged that a good number of existing buildings on both Main Street and Portland Road would become non-conforming if voters adopt the new standards as written. He said the town might, therefore, need to relax current site plan review provisions for expansion of non-conforming uses within the development districts.

The existing ordinance allows for a 25% expansion of a non-conforming use before triggering a site plan review; Manoian suggests a better threshold would be 50%, so as not to unfairly restrict the viability of existing businesses that would have non-conforming buildings.

Manoian also did a preliminary analysis of the wording changes that would be needed to the site plan review ordinance, in addition to the development standards, which would comprise a new section 10 in the ordinance. When he presented it to the Comprehensive Plan Committee Dec. 29, he said, “They seemed to respond favorably.”

Manoian added that there will doubtless be “a mountain of work” that yet needs to be done before the changes are ready for voters. The committee had earlier voted to put off a vote until the town meeting of 2013.

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