Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 8, 2018
Plastic bag and polystyrene bans considered at Blue Hill hearing
by Anne Berleant
Four new or revised ordinances up for town meeting votes sparked discussion at a March 6 public hearing that drew 22 citizens, as selectmen and the planning board discussed the proposed changes.
Three of the four give a nod to a changing cultural landscape concerned with plastics, environment and health, and the less somber topic of easing the path for food trucks into Blue Hill.
Proposed amendments to the commercial site plan review ordinance were described as “housekeeping” changes by Planning Board Chairman Scott Miller, plus the more substantive change of requiring 10-foot setbacks for new construction. The amendments will be dealt with in three separate articles. Proposed drafts of all four ordinances are available at the town office and will be posted on townofbluehillmaine.org.
Banning single-use bags and foam
Two ordinances, Single Use Plastic Bag Ordinance and Expanded Polystyrene Foam Food Service Container Ordinance, would ban plastic grocery and retail bags but not those used to bag produce inside a grocery store, and all polystyrene/foam containers used for food, including items used to package meat and other products on-site before selling.
Both ordinances were proposed by the Trash Action Group, which worked with selectmen on drafting the ordinance language.
“We see this as not the end but the beginning of our efforts,” Selectman Jim Schatz said.
Not everyone present agreed with this: “I think this raises questions. Where do you draw the line?” asked Adam Gray.
Single-use plastic bags often end up littering roadsides and open spaces and are not biodegradable, selectmen noted. The ban, if passed, would be delayed so that retailers could use up stock. Informal discussions with retailers indicated that many were aware that this change could be coming, selectmen noted.
“We didn’t always have these and we managed without them,” Selectman Ellen Best said.
The proposed polystyrene ban would include a delay to allow restaurants and take-out places to use up existing stock. It would cover the Blue Hill Fair and local food producers distributing products to local stores.
Selectmen and members of the public cited businesses and towns that no longer use polystyrene products, such as Portland, state government operations and McDonald’s. Dunkin’ Donuts is in the midst of a company-wide replacement of polystyrene products, Best said.
“Replacements are readily available,” she said. “It’s a completely do-able thing.”
Thirteen towns in Maine have passed ordinances banning or charging a fee for single use plastic bags and/or banning polystyrene. Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher was on hand, stating that, based on reaction at the town’s annual meeting, the ban may have traction in Deer Isle.
Mobile Vending Ordinance
The proposed ordinance replaces the more restrictive street vending ordinance currently in place. It would allow food trucks no longer than 20 feet in length to park on town streets, sidewalks and property once a permit had been granted. Food trucks would not be allowed within 50 feet of a restaurant or other mobile food vendor, or within or adjacent to schools, cemeteries or residential neighborhoods.
All permit applications will undergo a public hearing, although Schatz said that selectmen could use their discretion to grant a temporary permit for a single event without a hearing. Permit fees have not yet been established.
Commercial Site Plan Review Ordinance
Three warrant articles propose amendments: Article 64 seeks to clarify the ordinance and align it with state regulations and with current practices, for example, authorizing the code enforcement officer to send an application to the planning board even if its specifications fall within the CEO’s jurisdiction to issue a permit.
Applicants will also be required to send abutter notices to give neighbors a heads-up on proposed construction before a public hearing is called, the time when the CEO sends out such notices.
Article 66 requires a 10-foot setback for new commercial structures from property lines and travel rights-of-way, with Article 65 essentially exempting the requirement if the new construction takes place within 18 months of the prior land use and occurs within the same footprint.
From a safety perspective, a lack of setback makes access “kind of difficult especially if a building is burning,” Miller said. “And it’s a good-neighbor policy.”
“What we’re dealing with here is something that already exists,” planning board member Henrietta Clews said. “There are a lot of other [related] issues we want to talk about in this town.”
The public will have “another bite” at the proposed ordinances at a second public hearing on March 20, Schatz said, which will also address funding a harbor dredge test and proposed harbor ordinance revisions.