News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 18, 2013
Blue Hill Board eyes comp plan, ordinance changes

by Rich Hewitt

The planning board will put off developing substantial changes to the town’s site plan review ordinance for now and focus its attention on looking at possible changes to the town’s comprehensive plan.

The board, at its regular meeting on April 8, briefly discussed the results of a straw poll taken at the annual town meeting which showed local support for the town, through the board, having more control over the design of new commercial buildings in both the downtown district and in other areas of town.

The non-binding poll indicates that residents want the board to be more involved in some details of commercial development, particularly in the downtown area. “I doubt if anyone wants us to dictate the design—and I don’t want to,” Board Chairman Peter d’Entremont said. “But when it comes to the downtown, it seems like they want some continuity.”

The vote on controls downtown was 431-180 in favor of more control, while, for controls outside of town, the vote was closer, 355-254.

That seemed to indicate that there was less interest in having more controls on commercial development outside of town. Board member Ken Charles said the vote shows that voters want a way to maintain the character of the downtown to certain standards. But he questioned how much more control the board needed on out-of-town commercial development.

“If it’s out of town and you can’t see it from the road, I don’t know if we should have anything to say about it,” he said.

Board members discussed some issues that have arisen in recent applications, such as signage, requiring that a developer explain what he or she plans to have in a commercial building. But in the end, they opted to focus on technical issues for the first phase of revising the ordinance.

Board secretary Liz Howe has been renumbering the ordinance in an effort to make it easier to understand and to work with. At its last session, the board worked on definitions in an effort to clarify and coordinate definitions in all the town ordinances where applicable.

For their next session, they plan to look at the appeals section of the ordinance and update any name changes in state boards or agencies as well as any state requirements that may have changed since the last update.

When they turned their attention to the comprehensive plan, board members didn’t have much good to say about the requirements the state had added to the last proposed plan, which voters rejected in 2006.

The comprehensive plan is important because it guides the creation of other plans and ordinances for the town, according to d’Entremont.

“That’s going to tell us an awful lot more about what we need to be looking at as far as changes to the commercial ordinance,” he said.

Board members previously have said that it was the state’s additions to the proposed plan that doomed it to failure. The plan itself had a lot of good information in it, d’Entremont said, but townspeople got upset about the land use requirements that were added.

Code Enforcement Officer Judy Jenkins added that the future land use section that the state changed was what upset people and suggested it was part of the state’s plan to force zoning on the town.

“The next step was a move to land use and a zoning ordinance,” she said.

One of the more odious of the state suggestions was a 2-1 growth cap that stipulated that for every two development applications approved for the village district, there could be just one approved in the rural district.

Sue Walsh suggested that that was one of the biggest stumbling blocks to passage of the comprehensive plan.

“Even if we just take that out, it might have a chance of passing,” she said.

There was some suggestion that they just go through the 2006 plan and take out everything the state put it. But for the next session, d’Entremont asked the board members to review the entire land use section of the failed plan and to mark areas they find objectionable. What they find will direct discussions at the board’s next meeting.