Originally published in Castine Patriot, September 26, 2013
Castine citizens deny land use changes in special town meeting vote
Housing restrictions fail to pass
“A big problem in this warrant is that there is not enough clarification or definition,” said Julie Van der Graaf, speaking at a September 23 special town meeting on proposed zoning amendments.
by Anne Berleant
Voters soundly defeated nearly all proposed zoning amendments at a special town meeting on Monday, September 23. Of the 42 warrant articles, 35 would have relaxed land uses in rural and village districts, designed to spur economic development.
“Economic development means many things to many people,” said Rick Armstrong, chairman of the Community and Economic Development committee, who addressed the crowd before voting began. “Sustainable development in Castine…must be based on preserving the Main Street center, the village and, of course, the rural area.”
All proposed new commercial uses, bed and breakfasts and inns and hotels in rural and village districts failed to pass.
In addition, voters narrowly approved Article 6, an amendment disallowing bed and breakfasts in the rural district, 68-63.
That vote set the tone for the following articles, most of which sought to allow new uses in the rural and village districts.
Julie Van der Graaf, owner of the Pentagoet Inn and a CED member, argued that the low occupancy rates of the three lodging establishments in Castine are a sign that no change is needed, and that inns are really bed and breakfasts with restaurants.
Town Manager Dale Abernethy read the definition of a bed and breakfast from the zoning ordinance, which sets the room limit at four.
“Is it the purpose of the [zoning] ordinance to protect and promote the interests of the whole community or particular institutions?” asked Lynne Parsons.
“We don’t feel we are in the position to deny competition to existing inns and hotels,” said Bob Friedlander, chairman of the disbanded Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee’s zoning subcommittee and a member of the planning board. “A rising tide benefits all ships.”
The majority of the proposed amendments were designed to align the town’s zoning ordinance with a comprehensive plan approved by voters in 2010. The plan recommended revising the zoning ordinance to allow for broader housing and commercial land uses.
The planning board and CPIC recommended passage of the majority of amendments relaxing land use, while the CED did not. Armstrong said that for some, the CED’s position was based on the broad language of the proposed amendment.
“[We], as the CED, are not just saying no, but hoping these things will be explored further,” Armstrong said.
While all the proposed new land uses would have required approval by the planning board, faith in future members, if not current members, was lacking.
“It seems there is way too much room for interpretation,” said J.T. Loomis.
“It boils down to how much faith the community has in the planning board to differentiate,” said Friedlander.
Frank Wiswall succinctly summed up what others at the meeting had expressed: “What about [the board] in 20 years?”
However, voters were not as ready to restrict land use for housing as they were for commercial uses.
“I look around and see gray hair,” said Lynda MacArthur. “I’d like to see a vital, young population. The only way it’s going to happen is if we provide affordable housing.”
Two articles that would have tightened currently allowed uses—cluster housing and multifamily dwellings in the Rural district—were also defeated, the first by a majority voice vote, the second by 72-54. A voice vote on Article 17, to allow multifamily dwellings in the Village I district was too close for moderator Robin Maas to call—it was defeated 63-52.
In addition, a proposed change to the definition of “family,” also failed to pass.
One of the final articles sought to reduce the minimum Village III lot size from 100,000 to 85,000 square feet to match the Rural district.
“How does Village III become more rural than the Rural [district]?” asked Friedlander.
The article passed by majority vote.