Land Use Ordinance — Why are we doing this?
By William O’Connor
Land Use & Zoning Committee
“Why are we doing this?”
I must have asked myself this same question hundreds of times in the almost 18 months that the Land Use and Zoning Committee has been working on the Town of Bridgton’s new Land Use Ordinance. It is an important question to answer, as this new ordinance looks to shape how Bridgton is developed in the very near future.
In an attempt to give an answer, let me first take the question apart.
What is the “this” that we are doing?
The Land Use and Zoning Committee has been directed by the 2014 Comprehensive Plan, and empowered by the board of selectmen to bring some form of land use management to Bridgton. The Selectmen asked the committee to first prioritize establishing regulating standards for Bridgton’s busiest artery, Route 302, from the area of downtown south to the Naples town line. This exercise has proven valuable as it has given the committee a chance to establish the language and format that it will use to apply to the rest of the town once it is finished with the downtown and major artery. The committee is well aware of the fact that Bridgton once had a form of land management (zoning) in the 1970’s, but that it proved unpopular and was eventually voted out.
What is the committee actually doing?
The committee has established four new land use districts along the course of Route 302 from Main Street (beginning from near the monument) to, and including, Portland Road. Our initial approach was to employ a type of “form” based (appearance) land management, through which a structure’s use was not as important as its form with regard to how it relates to the buildings in the surrounding area. All of the standards regarding building placement, building height, façade fenestration (doors and windows), and district building density were a result of adopting the form-based approach. As a result of exhaustive review by the town’s attorney, the committee was compelled to include language regarding a structure’s intended use to our ordinance. We have tried to make these uses as inclusive and logical as possible, depending on where in town the building or proposed building is located.
Who are we?
The Land Use and Zoning Committee is made up of a group of extremely knowledgeable, dedicated, and thoughtful Bridgton residents. Three of its members were integral to translating the wishes of the citizens of Bridgton into the 2014 Comprehensive Plan and they could always be counted upon to help shed light on what the Comprehensive Plan Committee was thinking when it was drafting the language for its document. Other members have used their expertise in the areas of land use regulations to try and show where the “holes” are in our ordinance and to develop the highly-specific language and definitions that have become the backbone of the regulations for each district. The committee also has advisory members from both the board of selectmen and planning board present at most meetings to help guide the process and the committee’s support from Anne Krieg, Town Planner, has been essential to shaping the document’s final form.
Why are we doing this?
Simply stated, we believe that the purpose of zoning is to put land to the use for which it is best suited. This can (and usually does) mean something different to everyone. We wanted to give the residents of Bridgton what they asked us for in the language of the Comprehensive Plan which is “protect the character of Bridgton while preserving the private property rights of its citizens”. Protecting character and preserving private property rights have become the tent poles around which we have shaped our approach to this ordinance. We have spent a great deal of time discussing just what the elements that define Bridgton’s unique character are and how we can craft language that enhances and preserves them. As a result of these debates, the committee decided that the form-based approach would best allow Bridgton to retain and enhance its unique New England character, while at no time infringing upon the right of landowners to do whatever they wanted to do with their property. As previously stated, our initial drafts of the ordinance contained very little language with regard to how a property could be used, so long as its appearance worked in harmony with its surroundings. Upon legal review, we were informed that we had to include language specifically stating allowed and prohibited uses in each of our newly created districts. As a result, we have crafted definitions that try to be as inclusive as possible to allow for great flexibility for how landowners would like to use their property from district to district, while also working in the spirit of keeping what is uniquely “Bridgton” about our town.
In the weeks upcoming, you will be hearing quite a bit from the members of the committee regarding our process as it has developed to this point, and where we would like to go with it in the future. We appreciate the feedback that we have received through our several public hearings and workshops to this point and we look forward to further discussions regarding our ordinance.
Land Use & Zoning Committee
Brian Thomas — Planning Board liason
Greg Watkins — Selectmen liason
Lucia Terry — Alternate