State’s DEP ready to back Bridgton on zoning changes

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

State planners stand ready to act within weeks — instead of their usual snail’s pace — to back up efforts by Bridgton municipal officials not to let a $4 million development opportunity slip away from the most intensely urbanized area of downtown.

Likewise, both the Lakes Environmental Association and the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation have endorsed the proposed ordinance amendments, scheduled for a Dec. 13 referendum vote.

Bridgton Economic and Community Development Director Alan Manoian said Mike Morse, assistant shoreland zoning coordinator of the state Department of Environmental Protection, helped him come up with the game plan to slowly phase out the outdated 50,000-square-foot-per-unit requirement for new commercial and residential development. The two met Oct. 18 at Morse’s Portland office, along with Bridgton Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz, Code Enforcement Officer Robbie Baker and Berkowitz’s Executive Assistant, Georgiann Fleck.

The four Bridgton officials brought along with them the town’s three major planning documents — the shoreland zoning, subdivision and site plan review ordinances — and, in a matter of hours, had the basic bones of the amendments in mind, said Manoian. They agreed with Morse’s advice to phase in much smaller, 5,000- and 1,000-square-feet minimum lot sizes served by water and sewer by creating two subdistricts within the downtown’s shoreland-sensitive general development district along Stevens Brook — GD 1 in Pondicherry Square proper, and GD II elsewhere along the brook.

Then it was back to Bridgton, where they continued the whirlwind effort, prompting Berkowitz to say in an e-mail, “I would not want this to be an every week occurrence.”

Manoian, in fact, raced back for a 4 p.m. meeting with the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation, held at the Highland Lake Resort. There, he gave board members an update on the proposed amendments, as well as other projects he’s been working on. He hadn’t met with the BEDC since early summer, and they hadn’t been involved in any formal way in his discussions with Avesta Housing Corp., one of the region’s major developers of affordable housing — whose interest in developing a 21-unit senior housing complex in Pondicherry Square prompted the whirlwind to begin with.

“We got into an exchange, and it was an open discussion,” Manoian said, declining to be more specific. “They said, “Give us your approach,” and they gave me their impressions.”

On Tuesday of this week, the BEDC responded formally “via e-mail only, due to time constraints,” wrote Skip Sullivan on behalf of the board.

They said they support the changes for the general development district — but with conditions, ones with which Manoian and the other municipal employees strongly agree. Sewer system weaknesses, in terms of inflow and infiltration, must be addressed; and the town needs to get right to work on designing a comprehensive downtown parking plan.

Manoian said work began this week by DDI Construction of Gorham to repair a line break around Pine Street that’s compromising the town’s licensed 21,000-gallon-a-day wastewater license for the lower ball field sewer bed. More work is planned, and the lower ball field usage right now is only around 5,200 gallons a day.

“There’s no formal application before the town with Avesta, but if a developer of that type were to come in next summer, the inflow and infiltration would be all set,” said Manoian.

The BEDC agreed that proposed changes to site plan review rules will allow developers to obtain parking permits, allowing for overnight parking in municipal lots. But they cautioned that, “Overnight parking will greatly reduce the efficiency of snow removal, and the additional costs should be supported by the permit holders. ”

LEA wrote its own letter in support of the creation of GD 1 and GD II within shoreland zoning.

“Because of the availability of public sewer and water, and because of extensive impervious surface area in Bridgton’s downtown, this proposal seems environmentally neutral,” wrote LEA Executive Director Peter Lowell. He said LEA will prepare a draft Official Shoreland Zoning Ordinance Map to show to voters, and a final map, if the proposal is successful.

Manoian said DEP’s Morse was impressed with Bridgton’s efforts to “rise to the occasion” to accommodate new economic development for its downtown.

“He’s been very responsive and open-minded. In this economy we don’t have the luxury of waiting, and these changes will maximize our options for downtown properties,” not just the former Chapter 11 site Avesta is eyeing, Manoian said.

“They feel that it’s reasonable that they could make a very timely decision, in not months, but a week or two. They’re able to do that, because we provided them with good quality information, and we showed that we can do anything when we work as a team.”

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