Originally published in The Weekly Packet, December 5, 2013
Blue Hill’s Proposed Commercial Site Plan Review Ordinance would allow for more information from developers
Hearing on December 9
by Rich Hewitt
The Blue Hill Planning Board will hold a public hearing on proposed changes to the Commercial Site Plan Review Ordinance at 7 p.m. on Monday, December 9, at the town hall.
The hearing will precede the board’s regular meeting.
The board has developed the proposed changes over the past several months. Although much of what is being proposed amounts to “housekeeping” or “updating” the existing 12-year-old ordinance, there are some changes that will allow the board to require specific information from potential developers.
“Much of what we’ve done does not really change the ordinance,” said the town’s Code Enforcement Officer Judy Jenkins. “Most of it has been to update an ordinance that was outdated.”
Among the key changes, according to Jenkins, would be the requirement that a developer would have to explain how a proposed building will be used.
“In the old ordinance, the board couldn’t ask what they planned to do with the space,” Jenkins said. “Now we can ask what the use of the building is going to be.”
That lack of authority frustrated board members during the past year during the review of a proposed development on South Street which was rumored to be a Family Dollar Store. And the board members discussed that issue several times as they debated whether to work on revising the ordinance.
If adopted, the revised ordinance would require developers to provide more specific information about signs and landscaping, including an elevation view of the building and signs, and a landscaping plan showing buildings, existing and proposed vegetation walkways and exterior lighting.
A new section would allow the board, at its discretion, to “require an applicant to provide a visual impact assessment which may include photo simulations of the proposed facility taken from perspectives determined by the board or its designee.”
That language is similar to the language used in the town’s telecommunications ordinance and it’s designed to give the board some control over the building’s design particularly in the downtown and South Street sections of town.
“We don’t want to lose the flavor of the village,” Jenkins said. “This allows us to see how a building fits into the neighborhood.”
The revised section of the review criteria would remove “property values” from the list of things the board must consider as it reviews a project.
The existing section currently requires a developer to show that “adequate provision has been made to prevent any undue adverse effect upon adjacent or nearby properties or property values.”
The notes on the change indicate that property values be removed because it is not “within the board’s scope of operation to delve into property values.”
Jenkins said the issue of property value impacts has figured in some of the more controversial projects the board has had to review in recent years.
“In the end, it was not something we felt was up to us to determine,” she said.
Some changes include references to Maine state statutes which have been revised or updated over the years, revised definitions and other language changes to align the ordinance with other town ordinances that already have been updated.
“We’ve changed some of the language so that it matches other ordinances, so we don’t have 15 different languages in it,” Jenkins said.
By removing a lot of that “gobbledygook,” she said. The board has reduced the size of the ordinance from 45 pages down to about 33 pages.
Also, as part of the housekeeping work, the board has revised the detailed numbering system in the sub-sections of the ordinance which should make it easier to work with. The main sections of the ordinance will retain their original numbering system.
The board had hoped to send the revised ordinance to voters at a special town meeting. At a recent selectmen’s meeting, however, the selectmen voted not to schedule a special town meeting. If they don’t change their minds, the proposed revised ordinance likely will go to a referendum vote at the annual town meeting next spring.
Copies of the proposed revisions are available at the town office or on the town’s website, bluehillme.govoffice2.com.