Land Use rules pushed to November ballot

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

William O’Connor can see the writing on the wall.

If the town presents the proposed Land Use Ordinance to voters at June’s annual town meeting, O’Connor suspects there is a high probability that the document is rejected.

After two years of work by a seven-member committee, O’Connor and others understand a harsh reality — many people either simply don’t understand what the group is trying to do or don’t even know a proposal is on the table.

Following some recent public hearings, during which several residents spoke against various components of the proposed land use regulations, the committee met last Wednesday.

“We had a really good meeting,” said O’Connor, who is Land Use Zoning Committee vice chairman. “We did a lot of soul searching.”

The group reached a conclusion — they need to delay presenting the proposal to voters at the annual town meeting, and target November instead.

O’Connor told selectmen that any success of gaining passage depends on community outreach and education. He admitted that committee members “have been all so close to it that we didn’t see some of the questions people had.”

He noted that the group’s intent was to preserve Bridgton’s character as identified in the Comprehensive Plan, and not drive away business.

He also understands that when residents pick up the proposed land use rules and regulations to review it, “they are intimidated by the size of the document.”

Although the committee has publicized meeting dates and spoken on many occasions to interested parties, O’Connor said the next several months will be used to “get the message out” through as many means possible — from front page articles in The News to more public sessions.

“We are open to the public. We’re nice people. We want to hear what the public has to say,” O’Connor added. “We didn’t put in two years of work to see it all go for naught because we couldn’t convey the message to the people.”

So, all three proposals — Land Use Ordinance, Site Plan Review Ordinance and Design Review Ordinance — slated for the June town meeting will be moved to the November ballot.

Selectman Bear Zaidman put the matter on a specific timeframe track.

By Aug. 15, all public input and possible changes must be submitted to the Land Use Zoning Committee.

By Aug. 31, the committee will finalize all ordinance editing and map creation, which extends from Pleasant Street, along Route 302 to the Naples town line.

The final document is to be turned in to the town manager by Sept. 4.

One person who will vote against the land use ordinance regardless of changes and the public awareness effort is Selectman Bob McHatton.

He first apologized to O’Connor and other committee members for charging them with the two-year effort to develop land use rules and regulations. He appreciates the time and energy the group has put in. However, noting that he doesn’t “pull any punches” when it comes to how he feels about an issue, McHatton said he would vote “no” whether the ordinance was voted on in June or November because in his opinion, it is not in the town’s best interest.

Selectmen voted 5–0 to take the items off the June warrant.

In other selectmen notes from Tuesday night’s meeting:

Engineer outlines wastewater system options. Presenting pieces of a draft preliminary engineering report regarding Bridgton’s options for wastewater system upgrades, Brent Bridges of Woodard & Curran told selectmen that one of the hardest questions for Bridgton is to find a place to put clean water once it has been treated.

One option that would require about 10 acres is a package plant that utilizes three underground tanks — one collects wastewater, the second involves the “biological process,” which “grows bugs to treat wastewater, and a final tank that holds clean water.

A small aboveground building would include electrical equipment, including a blower which pumps air into the “bug tank,” as well as a generator for emergency power. Of the 10 acres, the “plant” would occupy one acre, while eight acres would be used for treated water dispersal. Another acre would serve as a buffer to adjacent properties.

There are other options the town can consider, which are outlined in the report, which will be available for public review at the town office and eventually on the town’s website.

Four possible sites are viable options. Bridges noted that the sites are not in prime Route 302 locations, since those properties are more valuable for future development rather than wastewater treatment facilities.

Bridges also touched on funding. With wastewater projects, towns can utilize a combination of a loan and grant money (likely sources are the USDA’s Rural Development and Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection). Bridges said one target is to use up as much of the grant dollars awarded, since unspent money has to be returned. So when the town considers the project, it should look into length of expansion, as well as considering where future hookups might occur and prepare that section.

One way to receive a better loan rate is to demonstrate a “health hazard” exists with the current system. If the town can show that upgrading the system would improve the overall health of the community, the difference in interest rate could go from 2.75% to 1.5%.

Another critical issue for Bridgton is where the town stands regarding per household income. Based on the current census figure, Bridgton stands at $40,700. If the town was at $39,800 or below, it could be in line for 75% in grant money. If the town stays over that “magic number,” it would be at 45%.

Bridges suggested it would be in Bridgton’s best interest to conduct an income survey, which could find the truer number is below what the census is showing.

More talk about the report will occur at the Wastewater Committee’s next meeting on Thursday, April 20 at 6 p.m., at the lower level meeting room in the Municipal Complex. Bridges will be on hand to talk with the committee, as well as answer questions from the public.

Unexpected dip in SAD 61 proposed budget. With costs of most things seemingly on the rise, SAD 61 Superintendent of Schools Al Smith actually had some good news to report to selectmen.

When piecing together the proposed budget, school officials initially plugged in an “expected” increase in insurance premiums.

Instead, it appears that figure is off. School officials were recently notified that the insurance line can be decreased by $150,000, which translates in an overall budget increase at 2.3 or 2.35%, which means less money to be raised through taxation.

Superintendent Smith gave a quick overview of the proposed budget, as well as an explanation regarding the use of capital reserve money to fund several projects that “have been on a wish list for a long time,” but have reached a point they need to be addressed.

While Smith expects the school board to revisit the Crooked River project at some point, officials felt the focus should be on various matters such as addressing parking problems at Lake Region Middle School and Songo Locks School, paving at the high school, replacement of the high school elevator, repairs to the roof at Stevens Brook Elementary, and repairs/resurfacing of the high school track.

Selectmen voted 5–0 to endorse use of capital reserve money for these projects. Smith encouraged the public to attend the district budget meeting on May 16, 6:30 p.m. in the high school gym.

Nomination deadline. The deadline for filing nomination papers with the town clerk is Monday, May 1.

Positions open: two seats on the board of selectmen; one planning board seat; one planning board alternate member seat; two SAD 61 director seats (a three-year term, and a one-year term — the vacated seat by Dorothy “Nina” Stoddard, who resigned effective April 24); and one Water District trustee seat.

Vendor at the beach? Nina Zagrazdina of Bridgton would like to bring dessert cobbler and ice cream to those enjoying a day at Highland Lake Beach.

Selectmen, however, wonder if they would be opening “a can of worms” if they were to allow one vendor on town-owned property, which could lead to others trying to cash in on beachgoers.

Zagrazdina sought a victualer’s license to operate Cast Iron Cobbler food truck from May 17 to Oct. 17.

The “draft menu” included in the application calls for cobbler — blueberry, blackberry, strawberry and mixed berry — at $5; add $1 if topped with ice cream; $1.50 to $2.50 for whole, skim, strawberry-flavored and coffee-flavored milk.

Police Chief Richard Stillman had concerns that the presence of a food truck could “create a hazard for pedestrians crossing Highland Road.”

While selectman Bernie King fears a number of vendors could also target Highland Lake Beach to set up shop — a situation he would rather not see — selectman Bear Zaidman was concerned about the disposal of wastewater. Zagrazdina noted in a “stickie” attached to the application that she would like to dump “minimal wastewater” into the town’s sewer system at the site and would be willing to pay a disposal fee. Zaidman feels the food truck should have its own self-contained wastewater holding tank.

Public Works Director Jim Kidder also spoke against dumping into the town’s sewer, noting it would not be in the town’s best interest of having someone other than a town employee to remove a sewer cover.

Since Zagrazdina noted she would be happy to speak with the board regarding the proposal, selectmen decided to table action until their May 9 meeting.

Near miss. No word yet regarding the state conducting a traffic study regarding the intersection of Route 302 and Sandy Creek Road.

Selectman Zaidman inquired about the request status after seeing “a tractor trailer nearly squish a little car” at the busy intersection. Selectmen raised the question at a previous meeting whether a traffic light should be installed there considering the number of near misses, as well as a couple of fatalities that have occurred at the intersection.

Yes on marijuana moratorium. Voters will decide in June whether to enact a moratorium ordinance on retail marijuana establishments and retail marijuana social clubs.

Following a public hearing Tuesday, selectmen voted 5–0 to move the moratorium proposal to the June warrant.

Glen Peterson, who is involved in the dispensing of medical marijuana, gave selectmen an update as to where the state is in forming regulations regarding adult recreational use of marijuana following last November’s referendum vote.

Peterson expects it will take the Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Implementation at least a year to develop guidelines.

“It’s off to a slow start,” Peterson said. “I really don’t see product availability before September 2019.”

Planning Board Chairman Steve Collins told selectmen that the town’s attorney suggested the moratorium as a way “to get ahead of the curve vs. being behind it” if proposals come before the town before rules and regulations are in place.

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