Need for zoning prevails at potluck planning sessions

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton residents appear to be ready to accept some sort of zoning, based on feedback from residents who attended last month’s planning sessions organized by the Comprehensive Plan Committee.

At each of the four potluck sessions, held at the South Bridgton Congregational Church, Bridgton Academy, Shawnee Peak and Town Hall, “There was a lot of discussion of the need for zoning,” said Anne Krieg, Bridgton’s Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development. She said the 20–25 residents who came to each session wanted especially to make sure commercial growth in town did not adversely encroach into traditionally residential neighborhoods.

CPC member Glen “Bear” Zaidman said it should be clear to town leaders by now that the public wants zoning  protections put in place. He cited as evidence the June 2012 voter approval of an amendment to the Site Plan Review Ordinance preventing residential use of the ground floor of buildings in the Downtown District on lots of 20,000 square feet or larger. “By a two-to-one vote they approved downtown standards,” he said. “The townspeople want some semblance of zoning to protect their interests” with regard to the traditional patterns of development in town.

Residents had a broad range of concerns at the potluck sessions, said Krieg. At the Bridgton Academy session, residents talked about the need to limit big box development along the gateways to downtown. At Town Hall, talk turned to property maintenance concerns and the need for protections against “people who keep too much junk in their yards,” said Krieg.

Will progress now be delayed?

How soon the voting public will be able to enact zoning regulations, however, now appears in doubt, since all but one of the CPC members have quit the committee in protest over a new policy requiring the annual reappointment of members of all town committees.

When the CPC held the planning sessions, it was with the intention to hear from residents before writing a final draft of the crucial Policy and Goals chapter of the Comprehensive Plan. Before most of the committee members left, Krieg said the plan was to finish writing the Policy and Goals chapter and go back out to the public to get feedback on the draft report.

It is now 20 months since the CPC first met. The committee spent the first eight of those months working to create development standards (i.e., zoning) for the Route 302 corridor, under staff guidance by former Director of Economic and Community Development Alan Manoian. The committee worked with Manoian to craft those standards using a “form-based code” approach, as opposed to using traditional “Euclidian” zoning, where only certain uses are allowed within specified districts. Under form-based codes, the focus is on the buildings and their relationship to streets, sidewalks and parking; as long as a developer can adhere to those standards, any use is allowed.

But Manoian resigned just as the committee was getting ready to fine-tune the draft form-based code zoning document that Manoian left behind. After he left in January of 2012, the CPC set aside its work on form-based codes and got to work on the second part of their charge, that of updating the 2004 Comprehensive Plan. They met every week, except during the summer months, to go over and rewrite all of the chapters.

Even though most of its members have left the committee, that doesn’t mean starting over, said Selectman Chairman Paul Hoyt. “It’s definitely a setback in terms of all their information and knowledge, and it definitely changes things, but we have Anne Krieg at our disposal, and we’ll still plan to go on with it,” he said.

Selectmen had set a target date of this coming June for the updated Comprehensive Plan to go before voters, but Hoyt said if the updated plan couldn’t be completed by then, it would have to wait until November.

 

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