No moratorium on formula-based businesses

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

Bridgton residents Angela Albrecht and Scott Finlayson are basically attempting to achieve the same result, when it comes to prohibiting and/or restricting formula-based businesses in this developing Lake Region community.

However, Abrecht is proposing that a six-month moratorium on formula based businesses, such as McDonald’s, be enacted by voters.

Finlayson, on the other hand, does not believe putting a moratorium in place on formula-based businesses is the way to go, at all.

Instead, Finlayson is proposing three amendments to the Town of Bridgton Site Plan Review Ordinance, specifically:

• one to address limiting the size of retail stores to no more than 20,000 square feet;

• another prohibiting fast food restaurants “in every district in Bridgton”; and

• a third amendment that would not allow “formula hotels and motels” in any district in town.

The Board of Selectmen respectfully declined to act on either Albrecht’s proposal to go forward by asking voters to enact a moratorium, or the three amendments suggested by Finlayson.

Selectman Robert “Woody” Woodward, a local business owner who operates the Highland Lake Resort, said he would recuse himself from any vote on Finlayson’s third proposed amendment “because it would influence me, professionally,” he stated.

Now, the choice is the same for both Finlayson and Albrecht — gather the required number of signatures (a minimum of 229) on a petition and have them certified by the town clerk, so voters can have their say on their proposals for formula-based businesses, one way or the other.

Both Albrecht and Finlayson attended the selectmen’s Nov. 16 meeting, where Selectman Paul Hoyt introduced them to one another.

Hoyt asked Finlayson, “How does what Angela is proposing tie in with what you are trying to do?”

“It’s very similar,” Finlayson replied, “however, I’m going in a different direction, to achieve the same end. If I recall, there has to be a need, or perceived threat, for a moratorium.”

“Scott hit the nail on the head,” said Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz. “These are two different approaches to achieve the same end. A moratorium stops the clock (on any proposed formula-based businesses). Scott’s proposal is not going that route and says, ‘Please vote on this.’”

The town manager explained that a moratorium could be enacted with a “reach back provision.”

“In the absence of a ‘reach back provision,’ the date a moratorium is approved by voters would be the effective date,” stated Berkowitz.

“If the leadership (to go forward with either Albrecht’s proposed moratorium or Finlayson’s suggested amendments) comes from the elected body, you (the selectmen) can call for a vote,” Berkowitz said. “If not, the people (Finlayson and Albrecht) have to get 229 verifiable signatures.”

Finlayson said he had already gathered a total of 243 signatures — but without a formal petition. He referred to the signatures he obtained at the polling site on North High Street Nov. 2 as being for “fact gathering (purposes) only”. He said he will now write a petition and then contact the 243 people who signed the list earlier this month in order to have them sign the formal petition.

“My feeling is I would like to get this in front of the voters as soon as possible, because, ultimately, they are going to be the ones to decide this,” Finlayson said.

Albrecht said that she was proposing a moratorium “for the well being of the community.”

“It’s (the proposed moratorium) not just for chain restaurants — not that I’m against them,” Albrecht stated. “There is a vacant store space next to Subway (sandwich shop on Main Street) and a vacant store space next to Family Dollar (on Portland Road). It seems we’re seeing a trend — either no one wants to rent next to a chain store, or they are just broke. The other thing is Bridgton is a tourist attraction. It would be nice to look at the standards we have now and review and modify them (to comply) with the Comprehensive Plan.”

Town Manager Berkowitz cautioned that if a moratorium does not meet the legal definition of “necessity”, or that the target of a moratorium is not somehow a threat to the public’s health and safety, an applicant for that type of business “could take the town to the cleaners (in court).”

“The issue of can you prove ‘necessity’ is a thorny one,” Berkowitz stated.

“That’s why I went in a different direction,” Finlayson said. “I think I’m farther down the road…We may end up with a McDonald’s, in the end, but we’re trying to establish rational criteria…I’m ready to pull the trigger and get it (the petition) going. We may lose one battle, but win the war.”

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