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News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, October 6, 2011
CPIC zoning subcommittee asks for consultant
Mordecai steps down from Tree Committee

Click here to see the full Castine Zoning Archive.

by Anne Berleant

Business carried out at the October 1 meeting of the Board of Selectmen included approval of the November election warrant, the resignation of Pat Mordecai as chair of the Tree Committee, and discussions on hiring a consultant to help rewrite the town zoning ordinance.

The question of whether Castine should apply to join the Downtown Network Program was also discussed. The program aims to help communities develop their business districts and is sponsored by the Maine Development Foundation. It costs $250 to join and the annual fee is based on town population.

The Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee has recommended joining the Downtown Network Program. In a letter requesting that the selectmen grant approval to filing a membership application, Pat Bishop wrote that the program “will promote the economics of Castine.”

Speaking at the meeting, she explained that the network program committee would work hand in hand with the Economic Development Committee, have its own board and officers, and work on fundraising with the business district. Money raised would be used to help develop that district. She meets with the Merchants Association this week to discuss the proposal.

“If they’re not in favor, we wouldn’t proceed,” Bishop said.

She added that the application process would take a lot of work, and that Town Manager Dale Abernethy had offered to assist her. Only two towns will be allowed to join the program in 2012, but Bishop said “it is worth trying.”

The selectmen agreed, voting unanimously in favor of allocating the $250 application fee.

Discussions on rewriting the zoning ordinance continued from an August selectmen’s meeting, with Bob Friedlander, chairman of the CPIC zoning subcommittee, recommending hiring a consultant for guidance.

“We went into this with our eyes wide shut,” he said. The number of zoning articles needing revision is “unrealistic” and a “formal rewriting of the entire ordinance should be accomplished.”

Sue Macdonald, CPIC chairman, said that the CPIC is “charged with attacking the issue of zoning. It’s very clear how difficult it is to understand the current zoning…We feel the taxpayers are entitled to an ordinance that they can understand and work with. We don’t have the skills.”

Zoning issues that the CPIC wants the subcommittee to examine include activities in the commercial area where empty storefronts are being replaced by private residences; town/gown relationships; and “rezoning the rural area to make it accessible to commercial and cluster housing” development.”

Selectman Gus Basile asked how the current ordinance prevented cluster housing.

Citizen Don Mordecai said a local family had held several meetings with the planning board asking for approval to build cluster housing “and it was very clear” that it couldn’t be granted.

“The town’s zoning is a patchwork of stuff that has accreted over a period of time to keep people from doing things,” Mordecai said.

“My understanding of a zoning ordinance is that it’s an attempt by municipalities to guide, and to stop things from happening that aren’t beneficial to the town,” said David Unger, chairman of the board of selectmen.

One of the reasons to move rewriting the ordinance along quickly is that other CPIC subcommittees need clear zoning regulations in order to make their own recommendations, Mordecai said.

There is roughly $10,000 in the CPIC account to use towards the estimated $20,000 to $25,000 cost of hiring a consultant.

The issue is whether to start the process now, without knowing whether a town vote would grant approval for the additional funds needed.

Abernethy said the first action would be sending out a request to find three qualified firms, and then receiving a written estimate.

“[This would be] in anticipation of approval by the town at meeting,” Friedlander said. “It would be a tragedy if it got voted down.”

Whether this could be accomplished in time to put a proposal on the November ballot was in question.

The selectmen gave unanimous approval to the motion to begin the first steps of the process.

In other business, approval was granted to a written request by the MMA cross-country coach to hold a 5K race on Saturday, October 8, starting at 7 a.m. Traffic on Pleasant Street at Battle Avenue would be blocked for the race’s duration.

The November election warrant was also approved, with David Unger on the ballot for selectmen, Wendy Knickerbocker on the ballot for Witherle Library Board of Trustees, and Joe Spinazola on the ballot for the school board.

The board also accepted the resignation of Pat Mordecai from the Tree Committee, effective September 30.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve the town,” she wrote in her formal letter to the selectmen.

Julie van der Graaf has expressed a willingness to become chairman, Mordecai said, and to work with the town’s new tree warden, Drew Marks.

In her four years on the committee, two-and-one-half of those as chairman, Mordecai helped raise $47,000 through state and community organizations that was used to inventory and report on the more than 300 elm trees in Castine, provide maintenance to more than 100 trees, and complete a GPS mapping and renumbering of the trees. Castine also became a member of Tree City USA during Mordecai’s tenure.

“With all that expertise, it’s a shame that you’re leaving,” Unger said.

After a discussion of the need for emergency ambulance services in light of the Bagaduce Ambulance Corps closing at the end of this year, with citizens urging the selectmen to direct the effort, the meeting was adjourned.

The selectmen next meet on Monday, October 17, at 4 pm. in Emerson Hall.