Originally published in Castine Patriot, March 20, 2014
Years after updating the comprehensive plan, Castine still works to achieve its goals
by Anne Berleant
Editor’s note: This article is one in a series of occasional pieces on Castine, Community and the Comprehensive Plan.
The first Comprehensive Plan Committee meeting was called to order nearly eight years ago to update Castine’s current comprehensive plan. The nine-member board was charged with updating the current plan, with the idea that it would take about two years to do the job.
Four years, 70 committee meetings, one survey and three “visioning meetings” later, an updated comprehensive plan was approved at a November 2010 special town meeting. In April of 2011, selectmen formed a Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee to work toward putting the plan’s recommendations and goals into action. After mixed success in passing new subdivision and zoning ordinances, selectmen disbanded the CPIC in November 2012, shortly thereafter appointing members to the current Community and Economic Development Committee.
The comprehensive plan identified and assigned goals to key issues the town needed to address. For the area of infrastructure, already underway through a master plan, the stated goal was to support its implementation. For others, like economic development and housing, its recommendations and goals sought to strike a balance with its vision statement: “A year-round thriving community that values our heritage, village character and natural beauty.” More than three years after the plan’s overwhelming approval, the community has failed to reach a consensus on putting its substantive recommendations and goals into action. At the same time, some steps have been taken to address the critical issues the Comprehensive Plan Committee identified.
Economic development, housing and land use
The economic summary stated that, “In order to attract businesses, the Town will need to increase the acreage that is available for commercial activity.” The “economy goal” for business development was to expand use of the waterfront and other marine resources, apply for grant programs and promote off-neck commercial growth.
Voters approved funds for a part-time economic development consultant in February 2012, and did so again at town meeting in 2013.
Castine has since joined the Maine Downtown Network, a nonprofit organization that assists towns in revitalizing their downtown areas, has held summer concert series at the waterfront and is upgrading its public restrooms and adding free Wi-Fi this year. Attempts at land use changes to allow off-neck commercial expansion have failed when brought to voters.
For housing, the committee recommended creating affordable housing to attract families and on-neck senior housing. Goals included forming a joint committee with MMA to seek grants, support the development of on-neck senior housing, affordable housing and stronger subdivision development and mobile home park standards and review the zoning ordinance to help effect changes.
Since the plan was adopted, a new subdivision ordinance was adopted in 2012, an “affordable housing” definition was added to the zoning and subdivision ordinances then and in 2013, and voters approved a contract zone to permit cluster housing at the Hancock Village Mobile Home park, with half the units deeded “affordable”—the rental cap today would be about $1,200 per month not including utilities—in 2013. Land use changes that would allow on-neck senior housing did not pass.
The comprehensive plan recommended reviewing land use to help achieve housing and economic goals, with a future land use plan that discouraged sprawl and protected open space in the rural area. Any commercial off-neck development should be in “designated commercial districts.” Overall, land use policy should “help the Town achieve its vision of Castine.”
While a municipality is not required to pass a comprehensive plan, Maine law provides that a town’s zoning ordinance must be pursuant to and consistent with a comprehensive plan adopted by the municipal legislative body. (See 30-A MRSA § 4352(2).) If it is not, the town’s zoning ordinances are not legally binding for state institutions. (See 30-A MRSA § 4352(6).)
2010 November: Comprehensive Plan approved by voters 366-84.
2011 April: Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee formed by Castine selectmen. Subcommittees follow on economic development, infrastructure, zoning, housing and waterfront.
2012 February: Economic development consultant Susan Walsh hired.
2012 November: New subdivision ordinance promoting cluster housing development passes 272-266; updated zoning ordinance, with no major land use changes, fails 257-278. CPIC and its subcommittees disbanded by selectmen.
2013 April: New Community and Economic Development Committee formed by selectmen.
2013 June town meeting: New zoning ordinance, with no substantive land use changes, passes 84-9. Affordable housing contract zone approved 83-9. $30,000 for economic development consultants approved 61-48.
2013 September: 35 of 42 articles amending land use table, including all those relaxing land use restrictions, fail to pass at special town meeting.
2013 October: Economic Development Consultant Sue Walsh resigns.
2014 January: Planning board unanimously approves site plan review and subdivision application for eight two-family cluster housing at mobile home park.