The zoning subcommittee, working under the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee, has doubled its meetings in an effort to meet an Election Day vote on revised zoning and subdivision ordinances for the town.
No matter the result of that vote, the subcommittee’s work will then be done, said Chairman Bob Friedlander at an August 20 meeting.
Charged by the CPIC to relax strict zoning regulations, clarify confusing language and provide an avenue for affordable housing in Castine, the zoning subcommittee has met regularly since June 2011 to revise the two ordinances.
The subcommittee finished revising the subdivision ordinance in May, after a public hearing in late March, and is working to finish its revisions of the zoning ordinance.
A public hearing is scheduled on the proposed changes for Thursday, September 13, with a Planning Board review on September 6. This allows sufficient time for selectmen to certify both ordinances and sign the warrants before absentee ballots are legally required to be available to voters.
Defining affordable housing
At its August 20 meeting, the zoning subcommittee cut short a discussion on the definition of “affordable housing,” agreeing it should be the same as that used in the subdivision ordinance.
“We worked hard on it and this is what we put in,” said member Liz Parish at an August 20 meeting.
In the proposed ordinances, affordable housing is defined as “Housing that meets the needs of families and others who wish to live in the Town of Castine, and whose household income is no more than 125 percent of the median income of Hancock County. This housing will be restricted by means of deed covenants (such as full-time occupancy, rental restrictions and resale restrictions), or other binding, long-term methods.”
The legality of using this definition rather than the state statute (which separates low- and medium-income) will be reviewed by the town attorney.
The definition of cluster housing in the zoning ordinance was carefully constructed to avoid controversy: “A subdivision (neighborhood) in which required density and open spaces are maintained in combination with a group of residences in close proximity.”
“It’s defendable at the public hearing,” said member Doug Koos.
Affordable cluster housing is a new—and controversial—article in the proposed subdivision ordinance. It gives a 25-percent bonus density and allows wetlands in lot use calculations for cluster subdivisions in the rural district that meet the definition of “affordable.” The committee has handed off the burden of how to provide for affordable housing in perpetuity to the CPIC’s housing subcommittee.
Building use in commercial district unchanged; rental restrictions tabled
The question of restricting first floor conversions to residential use in the commercial district was laid to rest at an August 6 meeting, when several property owners expressed their concerns.
Using means such as tax incentives and lower utility rates to maintain first floor commercial space “may be a better model for Castine,” economic development consultant Sue Walsh said at that meeting. The subcommittee agreed, and no action was taken for change on that issue.
“Honey works better than the big stick,” said Lee Witting, a property owner in that district. “Hopefully at some time in the future, we won’t need those incentives [because] we’ve created a vibrant commercial district.”
Left on the table is figuring out a way to add rental restrictions to houses to shut down “party houses” of Maine Maritime Academy students, a measure that subcommittee members say the academy administration is fully behind. However, the difficulty of regulating how many non-family members should be allowed per bedroom in a reasonable manner became clear at the August 20 meeting, when issues were raised like roommates and unmarried couples sharing a room.
The suggestion of limiting the number of non-family members to two was met with concern. In a five-bedroom house, that equals ten students, member Doug Koos pointed out, urging stricter regulations.
“I don’t think we should pass on this,” said Doug Koos.
The discussion was tabled until the subcommittee’s next meeting on Thursday, August 23.
Signage; contract zoning
Also at the August 6 meeting, the revision of Article 6.29 Signs was clarified for former Historic Preservation Committee chairman Arnold Berleant, who was concerned over deleted language requiring signage to be compatible with the historic character of the area. “It contradicts the intent of the historic district,” Berleant said. “[It] will be the single act that destroys the character of the town.”
All signs in the historic preservation district must still comply with the historic preservation ordinance regulating that district, Chairman Bob Friedlander said. The article revision was written by the planning board to streamline, rather than change, signage regulations.
The committee is still revising Article 2, Conditional or Contract Rezoning, now simply called Contract Zoning. The language has been simplified as well, with over two pages of standards, review and approval procedures boiled down to about a half-page section that references Article 9 for all planning board action. So far, the only substantive change is striking the present section 126.96.36.199.2, to allow uses that are outside existing and permitted uses for a district.
The idea of turning the mobile home park on Route 166A into an Affordable Housing Zone, in order to allow owner Doug Koos to build two-story modular homes, is not being considered.
“It’s not as simple as you think,” said Friedlander, adding that an Affordable Housing Zone couldn’t be specific to the mobile housing park. “That’s contract zoning, in my opinion.”
A copy of the subdivision ordinance is posted at the town website, castine.me.us, as is a July 31 draft of the zoning ordinance (as of press time). A later draft, dated August 14, is not yet posted online. The subcommittee meets on Thursday, August 23, 9 a.m. at the library, and Monday, August 27, 9 a.m. at the Castine Historical Society Mitchell Room. A CPIC meeting, to cover zoning and economic development, will be held on Thursday, August 23, 4 p.m. at Emerson Hall.