What is best path to follow on hiring new planner?

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

No one seems to doubt Bridgton needs a qualified planner on board to guide the town as it continues to grow.

There is, however, some question as to what path Bridgton should follow. While some feel Bridgton should immediately advertise for a new community development director, whose job description currently includes an economic development piece, others like Selectman Bear Zaidman believe this is the right time to look at all options available.

When Zaidman considers the past history of the CDD position, he feels it “hasn’t gone so well,” which is why he is strongly in favor of investigating options such as contracting with the Greater Portland Council of Government for planning services.

Town Manager Bob Peabody inquired what GPCOG charges and what technical assistance it could provide. The cost is between $70 to $90 per hour, which Peabody informed selectmen that he would budget for the higher figure just so the town would not be “surprised” at any point. Such assistance could be provided to various town boards, including the Land Use Advisory Committee. Billy O’Connor, a LUAC member, said such assistance would have been helpful at a previous meeting as the group continues to tweak a proposed ordinance that will go to voters this year.

O’Connor pointed out that last year there were 55-plus permits taken out, showing the town does need a planner.

“It’s a busy little town,” he said. “It often requires more expertise to get a project from A to Z.”

Zaidman emphasized he is not against the CDD position, but wants to see if another approach might be a better solution for Bridgton than the path already traveled.

Peabody pointed out that eight months ago, discussions with selectmen were held and the job description restructured, including a title change to community development director.

“We pulled back the economic development piece,” Peabody pointed out.

Zaidman also contacted GPCOG and after asking several questions, he came away from the conversation wanting to have a representative meet with Bridgton officials to talk about what planning services could be offered.

“They work with other municipalities that have similar problems as ours,” Zaidman said. “I’d like to what COG has to say. We might come out the other end with a better plan. I want to see us progress and do well. Maybe it means doing it a different way…I’m not putting blame anywhere. I’m just saying it hasn’t been working out the best…I want it to be better than what it’s been doing.”

Before discussion on the issue started Tuesday night, Selectmen Chairman Greg Watkins informed the public that just because the town has raised money in the past for a position, such as the community development director, it is not obligated to continue such support, if officials decide to go in another direction — a position supported by Maine Municipal Association’s legal services.

Selectmen opened up the discussion to members of the public, who spoke for about 35 minutes. Comments included:

  • Ursula Flaherty, a member of the Community Development Committee, supports retaining the CDD position noting, “Planning is part of moving forward.” She questioned why the position “is so contested” and pointed out it is not “an exotic position,” that the town needs a trained, qualified individual to provide expertise in the area of planning and development.
  • Dee Miller, who is a Planning Board member, supported the call to gain as much information as possible and carefully weigh options that might best serve Bridgton. But, she hoped selectmen will access information quickly and move on the matter since the town has many important issues on the front burner.
  • Cathy Pinkham, another Planning Board member, believes infrastructure improvement has to be the town’s top priority. She too encouraged selectmen to research, weigh the options and move quickly on a decision. “Keep it simple,” she added.
  • Deb Brusini, also a Planning Board member, agreed that the economic development aspect could be pulled from the job description and possibly looked at in terms of a part-time position. A planner, however, is greatly needed, especially by local boards, which need to lean on that person with “expertise” as a resource when reviewing various projects.

By a 5-0 vote, selectmen agreed to seek a meeting with a GPCOG representative “as soon as possible.”

In other selectmen’s notes:

Looking at electronic signs. If the town is to install an electronic sign at the Town Hall, selectmen want to see what one or two or three will look like before buying.

The town raised $12,000 for an electronic sign, but there has been debate regarding whether it should be placed at the Town Hall or another site. Some price estimates place the cost of an electronic sign ranging from $8,000 to $14,000 depending on size, whether it is single or double sided, and capabilities.

One example is the current Lake Region High School electronic sign, which cost $24,000, including the framing.

A representative from Watchfire Signs, which works with Bailey Signs of Westbrook and NeoKraft Signs Inc. of Lewiston, is willing to attend a selectmen’s meeting to discuss options and concerns, as well as bring “live demos.”

Selectman Bear Zaidman liked the idea of seeing the signs in person.

“People seeing the signs, it will either put people’s mind to rest or aggravate them more,” he said.

Selectmen’s concerns. A quick fire of questions raised:

  • Bob Murphy remains interested in looking at expansion of the South High Street cemetery. Selectmen have discussed possible land acquisition in executive sessions, and would need to schedule another closed session to discuss the matter.

Murphy also wondered if it is a requirement for homeowners to post street numbers on residences to assist fire officials responding to calls.

Town Manager Bob Peabody said an ordinance is in place addressing the matter.

“It’s just a matter of enforcement,” he added.

  • Bear Zaidman raised the topic of how the town plans to proceed regarding the “green (or not so green) space” along Depot Street. Will the town try to re-grow grass or move toward other options such as pavers or asphalt?

Zaidman believes officials owe it to townspeople to find a solution that “will last and look nice.”

The town manager has spoken with Lucia Terry of Perennial Point of View about options, but has been unsuccessful in reaching a Maine Turf Co. representative. The topic will be added to a future agenda.

Manager’s on-going project list. Town Manager Peabody gave selectmen updates on the following:

  • Wastewater expansion — An additional interviewer was brought in to assist with the survey, which was expected to be completed by the end of January. Next step is submission to Rural Development.
  • Marketing and branding — Black Fly is working on a new Bridgton promotional video. A list of names was submitted to the company as potential people to be interviewed. Ads promoting Bridgton will appear in the February/March and July/August issues of Portland Monthly.
  • Roof repairs — Work on the Town Office roof is close to 75% completion, while the roof deck at the Bridgton Community Center has been completed with the remaining repairs to be completed in the spring.
  • New camping lots — Three new lots at Salmon Point Campground have been “roughed out” and pedestals will be installed in the spring. It appears all three sites will be rented for the new season.

Fire Department update. Fire Chief Steve Fay attended the National Fire Academy Jan. 14-19 in Rhode Island.

The chief thanked John Reny, trustee of the Reny Charitable Foundation, for a generous $500 donation; and thanks those folks who help keep fire hydrants clear of snow.

The department is looking for people interested in becoming firefighters. Call 647-8814 for more information.

Chief Fay has a new ride. A former Bridgton Police cruiser has been “repurposed” as the fire chief’s new vehicle. The move was made possible when the town put a new police cruiser on the road. The town purchases a new cruiser each year.

Chief Fay has submitted a $54,000 application for a FEMA/AFG grant to pay for engine exhaust removal systems for each of the four fire stations.

Streetscape work. Several people attended the Jan. 25 meeting with streetscape design team, HEB Engineers and Ironwood Design Group, as they work on final details of the Main Street project.

Project information is available on the town’s website at www.bridgtonmaine.org

Recreation update. Registration is open for baseball, softball, lacrosse, Mad Science, French Club and karate. Sign-up deadline is March 16. Scholarships are available for all sports. To register, visit bridgtonmaine.org/bridgton-recreation

There will be a Baseball/Softball Coaches’ meeting on Feb. 26.

North Bridgton has over three miles of cross-country skiing. Parking can be found at Bridgton Highlands Country Club. A trail map is available on the town’s website under “Recreation.”

Upcoming meetings. Today, there will be a selectmen’s workshop at 5 p.m. regarding ideas of renovation of the Highland Beach parking area developed by the Bridgton Young Professionals.

Another workshop scheduled is Thursday, Feb. 15 at 5 p.m. regarding the wastewater and streetscape projects.

The next regular selectmen’s meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 13.

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