Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 1, 2012
Castine voters will decide fate of zoning/subdivision ordinances
Also on ballot: library, dock and recreation funds
by Anne Berleant
Voters will decide five referendum questions on November 6, spanning the adoption of new zoning and subdivision ordinances to allowing money approved for one use at town meeting to be authorized for another.
With barely a dozen citizens attending, the Board of Selectmen held an October 25 public meeting to inform the public on the issues behind the ballot questions.
The sparse attendance was a far cry from the standing-room-only crowds that filled Emerson Hall for two September public hearings on the proposed new ordinances.
Those hearings resulted in a zoning ordinance being placed before voters that is drastically different from the one originally proposed by the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee’s zoning subcommittee.
Compliance with comprehensive plan behind ordinance revisions
Questions 1 on the ballot asks voters to decide whether the proposed subdivision ordinance should be enacted to repeal and replace the current ordinance; Question 2 asks the same of the proposed zoning ordinance.
At the heart of the new ordinances lies one thing: to make them consistent with the comprehensive plan as adopted by voters in 2010 and approved at the state level.
“That’s a big motivation for this town,” said Town Manager Dale Abernethy.
Maine state law allows 24 months for a zoning ordinance to become compliant with a town’s adopted comprehensive plan, and that 24-month window is just about up for Castine, said Abernethy.
If the ordinance is not compliant, state institutions within that town—like Maine Maritime Academy in Castine—are not legally bound to follow it. Conceivably, the state could take legal action if the town tried to enforce its zoning ordinance on MMA.
Sue Macdonald, Chairman of the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee, described the proposed ordinances as “more compliant” with the comprehensive plan than the current ones.
The comprehensive plan calls for simplifying building permit procedures and, especially in the off neck, rural district, providing for affordable housing and economic development.
A work in progress
After citizen outcry over proposed land use changes that would allow commercial and business establishments in village and rural districts and multifamily dwellings in village districts, the zoning subcommittee rescinded them, deciding such changes could be decided article by article, after more public input.
In fact, at an October 15 presentation by the subcommittee on the ordinances as they now stand, “the general consensus was: ‘What is all the fuss about?’” said Macdonald. “People came in 100 percent against it and came out saying, ‘This is not what we’ve been told.’”
Which makes sense, since the land use table in the proposed ordinance is now basically identical to the one in current use. The only changes allow the farmers market to continue on the town common and reduce the Village III lot size requirement from 100,000 to 85,000 square feet, to match the rural district.
Selectman David Unger said he was hopeful that further examination and discussion “will result in voter approval in May” of specific changes to the land use table, if the zoning ordinance, as it stands now, is approved on November 6.
Providing for affordable housing
The proposed subdivision ordinance includes a new Affordable Cluster Housing Zone, which gives developers a 25 percent density bonus and allows wetlands to be used in lot size calculations. On an eight-acre parcel, five houses may be built on half-acre lots, and any wetlands within that parcel may be counted toward open space. The required 100-foot development and 30-foot lot setbacks are identical to the existing cluster housing development article, which is itself stricter under the proposed ordinance. In the current ordinance, no minimum lot size is required; in the proposed ordinance, it is one-half acre.
Cluster housing development has been part of the town’s subdivision ordinance for many years. The number of cluster housing applications received by the town in the 20-odd years Abernethy has been town manager? Zero. The number of inquiries preceding the application process? One, said Abernethy.
Several people at the meeting asked the oft-repeated question, “What’s the rush?” on a November vote on both ordinances, when MMA students can cast ballots on town business, rather than at town meeting in May.
“I voted against bringing this to warrant,” said Selectmen Chairman Gus Basile.
The planning board has recommended enactment of both the zoning ordinance (3-2 vote) and the subdivision ordinance (5-0).
Questions 3-5 request change in use, or transfer of funds
The last three ballot questions ask voters permission to:
Question 3: appropriate $8,000 from the Library Investment Fund and transfer to the Library Administration-Salary Account.
Chairman of Trustees Margery Read said that this money is needed to cover the children’s librarian salary.
“The Adams School cut back on library funds they traditionally give us,” said Read, after the library budget had already “gone through the selectmen process.” The money will come from the library’s own account; “we’re only asking permission,” said Read.
The library board of trustees recommends the funds transfer.
Question 4: authorize the transfer of $5,400 from the Docks, Wharves and Floats Account to the Harbor Master - Salaries and FICA Accounts.
New Harbor Master Sarah Cox “took a slightly different approach” to service at the dock in 2012, said Town Manager Dale Abernethy, having multiple dock attendants at certain times, which led to a shortage in the salary account.
Dock coverage will be cut back next year, Abernethy said, but the requested transfer of funds will pay for “active coverage on the dock and mooring work” through June 30, 2013.
The funds will not come from property tax money, but from dockage and mooring permit fees and boat excise taxes.
The Board of Selectman recommends the funds transfer.
Question 5: authorize the $11,350 in the Recreation Field Restoration Capital Account to be used in whole or in part to restore the recreation field at Fort George or to develop a new recreation field adjacent to the Backshore Pond on Wadsworth Cove Road.
This money was approved at town meeting where “it was pretty clear” that it would be used for Fort George, said Abernethy. Since then, some citizens and the Recreation Committee have asked that it instead be used at Wadsworth Cove, where there is enough space for a regulation-size soccer field. This requires a Department of Environmental Protection Tier I or III permit, “depending on the determination of wetlands,” said Abernethy, who “feels certain” such permit will be granted if this moves forward.
The Board of Selectmen and Recreation Committee recommend this use of said funds.
David Adams said that a new recreation field at Wadsworth Cove would “enable us” to turn Fort George into an historic resource.
“Fort George is owned by the State of Maine,” said Abernethy, unlike Fort Madison. “We’re tasked with managing it.”
Voting on the ballot questions will be held during the general election on Tuesday, November 6, at Emerson Hall, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.