News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, September 26, 2013
Brooklin begins to review 10-year-old Comprehensive Plan

by Rich Hewitt

The town kicked off its review of its 10-year-old comprehensive plan earlier this month.

A group of about a dozen residents gathered on Thursday, September 12, to begin the process of updating the plan, which was adopted in 2003.

The update will be different than the process was the last time, according to Kathy Rees, chairman of the town’s planning board. Then, there was a big push from the state for towns to develop plans, and the state provided money and assistance for towns to do it.

This time around, there is no pressure from the state. The main driver for the review is the plan itself, which calls for an update in 10 years.

Rees said the review was an opportunity to update the town’s status and revisit the goals outlined in the 2003 plan.

“It gives us a chance to talk about where we want the town to go and where we want to be,” she said.

A key topic of discussion was how to involve more native and long-time residents of the town in the process. That is imperative if the updated plan is to represent the views of the whole community, said Bill Hanley.

“You need to have more local people involved,” he said.

By a show of hands, he determined that no one in the room had been born and brought up in the town, although most had lived in Brooklin for a decade or more. Although several people pointed out the ratio between natives and newer residents was changing, they all agreed that a broader representation from the town was desirable. But, they also agreed that it was a difficult task to accomplish and that long-time residents tended not to get involved in town committees.

While they agreed to seek out new members to serve on the committee, they also suggested that there may be ways to involve more people by focusing them on specific issues and drawing on their interest and their expertise.

“If we can get more people into the building, they’ll be more connected [to the process],” Hanley said. “They’ll have a stake in it.”

The group had a wide-ranging discussion about some of the issues the town might face in the next 10 years. Those issues included, in no particular order:

• declining school population

• demands of increased boating, such as lack of pump-out, gas, moorings

• development of the downtown area and the added infrastructure involved

• the impact of the development of a number of already approved subdivisions in town

• the number of empty homes in town

• the lack of affordable housing

• ways to support existing businesses and encouraging new business.

• lack of high speed internet

• what to do with town-owned properties

• how to deal with tax-delinquent properties

Some of these issues were identified in the existing comprehensive plan, which also included goals and recommendations on how to deal with them. That plan also included a large section of data about the town, and the group discussed whether it needed to update that information before moving ahead with looking at goals and recommendations.

Some argued that it would be better to gather statistics first and use that as a basis for establishing future goals or a “vision” for the town’s future. That work, suggested Peter Sprague, could be done fairly quickly by a subcommittee.

Others, however, suggested that reviewing the goals and recommendations in the 2003 plan would provide direction on which needed to be updated.

The group made no decision on the overall approach, but did agree that each person present would review the goals and recommendations section of the current plan and identify two or three key issues to bring to the next meeting. The discussion of those issues, Rees said, may provide some idea of how to proceed in the future.

The committee has no set deadline to complete its work, although the board of selectmen had suggested that something could be ready for inclusion on the town meeting warrant in April. Although that seemed to be too short of a time frame, Sy Balch suggested that it might be possible to present a preliminary report at that time and get reaction from townspeople. The committee could use the local response to develop the final draft plan.

The group did not select a chairman, despite Rees’ repeated requests for them to do so. She indicated she would not serve as both chairman of the planning board and the comprehensive plan committee.

Other members at last week’s meeting were: Pip Wick, Frank John, Susanne Grosh, Paige Morse, Mike Sealander, Peter Sly and Richard Hero.

The group set the second Thursday of each month for its regular meetings. The next session is set for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 10, at the town office building.