At its August 23 meeting, the Community Economic Development committee focused on several proposed land use changes up for vote at a special town meeting in September.
Chairman Rick Armstrong said the committee was “compelled to respond to the warrant” because of its serious nature.
The committee voted unanimously that three amendments (Articles 13-15) allowing “commercial structures or uses not otherwise listed” outside the commercial district with planning board approval “ought not to pass.”
The amendments, said member Tony Politano, provide “zero guidance” to the planning board and would have “a negative community and economic impact.”
“Under this, a speculator could come in and put a tattoo parlor across the street,” he said.
“[Castine’s] quaint character is one of our biggest selling points,” said economic development consultant Sue Walsh, and should not be damaged by land use changes.
The committee also voted to not recommend articles allowing bed and breakfast establishments (Articles 6-8, Pat Bishop and Scott Vogell dissenting), and inns and hotels (Articles 23-25, unanimous) outside the commercial district with planning board approval.
Julie Van der Graaf argued that the existing inns—The Pentogoet, of which she is an owner, the Castine Inn and the Manor Inn— were not filling rooms.
“Why in these economic times would we want to damage these three historic properties?” she asked, adding that the ordinance could be amended in the future, if needed. (For more on Van der Graaf’s and other inn owners’ perspectives, see the Another View column, “Reckless Proposals,” on page 5.)
Armstrong said the committee was entering “gray areas” of stopping competition by standing against these articles.
“This isn’t about stopping competition, it’s about stopping homogenization,” said Politano, arguing that young families would not want to move in across from a bed and breakfast that might rent to Maine Maritime Academy students.
Some citizens disagreed.
“I don’t understand how you can limit it,” said Susan Adam, owner of the Adam Gallery, which lies outside the commercial district. “Isn’t that like me saying, we shouldn’t have more galleries?”
The “economic engine has to drive the existing charm of the community,” said Doug Koos. “This idea of relaxing zoning…will have unintended consequences.” He added that contract zoning could be used outside the commercial district on a case-by-case basis.
“It takes a very long time to get contract zoning through the planning board,” said Liz Parish, pointing out that a property would have to be purchased without its buyer knowing if its intended use would be permitted.
Out of time, the CED committee said it would continue its review of the warrant articles at its next meeting.
Armstrong also addressed the ongoing downtown streetscape redesign, applauding design subcommittee member Ted Lameyer for “dropping a bomb in the middle, that was necessary.”
Selectmen approved the concept of hiring a town planner for the street redesign at its August 19 meeting, and Town Manager Dale Abernethy is issuing a request for proposals.
Lameyer suggested changing the subcommittee’s role from deciding on benches, streetlights and planters to reviewing street design “and being a conduit to the town…I think this is critical.”
Armstrong said they should first see what bid proposals selectmen receive.
In addition, three residents have asked to join the design subcommittee, but the CED decided not to expand it at this time.
“This has all morphed into a whole new thing,” said Vogell.
The committee spent over half its time trying to approve the minutes of its previous meeting, before voting 6-1 (Van der Graaf) to accept them.
While municipal meetings are recorded, the tape from that meeting had since been re-used.
At issue was the vote to recommend architect and engineering firm WBRC as town planners to selectmen; whether the CED should be a “think tank” or also implement its ideas; and on Walsh’s role on the committee.
Amendments resulted in Walsh continuing to record meeting minutes, even though it limits her participation.
The community also clarified its own role as a “thought leader,” with its subcommittees taking action.
“It’s important for us to define what [Walsh] is doing, what we’re doing,” said Van der Graaf. “So we can come together to be most productive.”
Tuesday, September 3, 9:30 a.m., Emerson Hall