Residents endorse Portland Rd. vision

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Alan Manoian, Bridgton’s Director of Economic and Community Development, let members of the Comprehensive Plan Committee explain the concept of form-based codes at last week’s “People’s Choice” planning charette.

By now, after months of weekly meetings, they had become something like experts at form based codes, the planning tool endorsed by Manoian to be eventually incorporated into the town’s site plan review ordinance to guide future growth.

At three separate stations, where maps of sections of the Portland Road corridor were laid out along long tables, the 11 committee members took turns explaining the nuances of transects, build-to lines, window proportionality and streetscapes — all part of the language of form-based codes.

“If you don’t spread up, you spread out, and that’s called sprawl,” explained member Fred Packard, holding court at the “Commercial Auto” table, reserved for discussion of the stretch of corridor from Sandy Creek to the Naples line. That’s why one of the development standards being considered is to allow multi-story buildings of up to six stories, in anticipation of possibly someday attracting a hotel or other large-scale business. “Bridgton’s not forever going to be a town of 5,000 people,” said Packard, and form-based codes will ensure that the town’s character is protected the closer one gets to where the highway meets downtown Main Street.

Across the room, other members explained the proposed development standards for the “Traditional Center” section of corridor, from Pondicherry Square to Smith Avenue, and the “Traditional Flex” section of corridor, from Smith Avenue to around Hannaford Supermarket.

At the wrap-up session, most residents agreed: form-based codes have merit. Manoian explained that the goal was to create one long “harmonious” flow of development, remarking that Portland Road’s development is far from harmonious now.

That prompted committee member Ray Turner to add, “Right now we have energy that’s cacophonous, not harmonious,” which prompted laughter from the audience.

One woman, while admiring the form-based code process as “amazing,” said she was hoping to hear that the committee was going to require architectural standards for types of construction materials used. Committee members said such standards would be addressed, but that their initial task is to focus on the placement of buildings. For example, in the Traditional Center section, buildings will be required to be sited near the road, with the parking lots in back. In the Traditional Flex section, those rules are more relaxed, with some front parking allowed. In the Commercial Auto section, the building may be sited anywhere on the property, as determined by its proposed use.

“Once we’ve got the functional form down, then we can talk about architectural standards,” Manoian said.

Resident Richard Bennett gave “kudos” for the committee’s presentation of information. He said it might be helpful if the committee provided the public with photos from towns that have successfully adopted form-based codes, mentioning Woodstock, Vt.

“Our town is like no other,” said committee member Lucia Terry, but there was general agreement that photographic examples would be helpful.

Asked about a time frame for adopting the codes, member Greg Watkins said that was a “sensitive subject.” The committee initially was charged with coming up with something by this November, but early on realized it would take longer than that to do the job right.

“We want to do as thorough a job as possible, and we want the community involved,” Watkins said. Member Chuck Renneker noted that Bridgton had townwide zoning from 1971 to 1977, but it was voted out because it became too restrictive.

“Back in the 1950s, we were the center of (commerce) within a 25-mile radius,” noted resident Ken Murphy. “This was a prosperous community.”

The committee will be holding more charettes as they use the concept of form-based codes and apply them to the town’s other major gateways, as well as the downtown. The amendments to the site plan review ordinance will first be brought before the planning board for consideration, then to selectmen; the projected date for going before voters is next June’s town meeting.

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