Work continues on developing standards

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Selectmen and planning board members were updated Thursday on the Comprehensive Plan Committee’s ongoing effort to draft new development standards for Portland Road and downtown Main Street.

With the help of former Economic and Community Development Director Alan Manoian, the committee has established the idea of transects, or districts, which would each have specific standards based not on use, but on how the buildings relate to the street, mirroring a traditional New England small-town development pattern. In the downtown and along Portland Road, south to Maple Street, those standards require buildings to be built close to the sidewalk, with parking in the rear. As speed limits increase southerly along the highway, the standards would increasingly accommodate the driving public by allowing parking in front and buildings set back further from the road.

“What we want to do is not stop growth, we want to control what it looks like,” said CPC member Chuck Renneker.

Selectman Chairman Art Triglione told the committee they were on the right track, and urged the members to keep planning board members informed of their progress. “Whatever you do, it has to be done with the sanction of the planning board. They’re the enforcement authority.”

The three boards talked in general terms about the best way to introduce the changes so as not to conflict with the existing site plan ordinance. As proposed, the development code would become a new Section 10 of the ordinance, and there would be numerous revisions required within the existing ordinance, along with additions to the definitions.

Planning Board member Dee Miller wondered whether a better approach would be to have the standards be a separate document.

“One problem I see, is that our site plan review ordinance doesn’t deal with residential” development, she said. The draft development standards provide for and in fact encourage new mixed-use development.

“We need to make it as easy and painless as possible for people” to understand, she said.

Manoian has said that he proposed incorporating the standards into the existing ordinance because, that way, they would have better legal standing because Bridgton does not have zoning.

Miller suggested the town get a legal opinion on the merits of having the standards be a stand-alone document.

The standards are laid out in graphic format and are designed to be user-friendly to developers. However, planning board members reminded CPC members that the new code would not negate the need for developers to have their projects go through the site plan review process.

CPC member Anne-Marie Amiel said “We have come together because all of us care about Bridgton, and we want to keep the character of a very, very special place.” Referring to earlier admonitions that the standards are not to be considered as zoning, she said, “People run from the sound of ‘zoning’ and ‘codes.’”

CPC members, who will be meeting today to begin going over the draft standards, agreed they will soon need to begin an outreach effort to residents to help them understand and further refine the standards.

Other discussion centered around the question of what the new standards would do to the status of existing development. Buildings that do not conform to the standards would become non-conforming, and Code Enforcement Officer Robbie Baker cautioned the committee to provide sufficient flexibility in the standards to allow existing property owners to make improvements and/or do expansions.

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