Comp plan throws chain in gears of Atlantic Avenue proposals
The east side zoning proposals have not yet reached the select board, but on Monday, Aug. 13, that board announced the zoning changes are not in line with the town's comprehensive plan.
Chair Wendy Wolf explained that since the adoption of the 2015 comprehensive plan, the boards have reviewed and discussed the plan at length and base their decisions on the will of the voters who adopted it.
“… We are trying to identify priorities and steps that are really helping us plan for the future development of the town in a way that reflects what the voters say should happen,” said Wolf. “I want to share with you that the town attorney has advised that if the proposed zoning changes from the planning board are to be adopted that the comprehensive plan would need to be amended as well. This issue was also raised by the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) in their correspondence to the planning board.”
Based on feedback from the town attorney and the DEP, Wolf said the board is considering requiring the comprehensive plan to be changed before the town changes the maritime and water-dependent zone on Atlantic Avenue. Wolf also said the select board has three options: drafting a warrant for the town to vote on the proposals and risk a lawsuit if they pass; deny the proposals; or amend the comprehensive plan before allowing the proposals to go to a town vote.
Wolf noted the third option would take time hiring a professional planner, filling a committee to review language, and get it on a ballot.
“Prior to embarking on this process, I think it would be appropriate to turn to the voters of Boothbay Harbor and ask whether they do or do not want the board to pursue the process of amending the plan,” said Wolf. She suggested a referendum question be included on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Wolf turned to the rest of the board for comment and the sentiment was the same. Selectman Tricia Warren said she is apprehensive about changing the comprehensive plan as a rule, but if it were to be done, she would also prefer to see a town vote affirming that. Selectman Mike Tomko, once a planning board member, said he supports seeing a ballot question asking voters if the comprehensive plan should be reviewed, if only to test the proposals against the process.
“If matters have changed then that evidence that research needs to be presented, it needs to go through the same process led by the appropriate experts with the appropriate amount of input from the community,” said Tomko.
The public forum portion brought a number of concerns, most highlighting the time and resources spent creating the east side proposals. Tom Minerich said those proposals should be tied into a vote to change the comprehensive plan.
Mike McBride asked why the conflict with the comprehensive plan has not come up before. “I find it disappointing … We've known for months what the advisory group and the planning board were going to recommend as far as zoning changes. Wouldn't we have known to compare that to the comprehensive plan?”
Wolf agreed it was disappointing, but reminded the audience that two professionals – Bob Faunce of Lincoln County Planning and Dan Bacon of Gorrill Palmer – sat on the advisory workgroup.
Bill Logan said the board has the power to begin the process to review and revise the comprehensive plan without a vote, since it would come before the public anyhow. Wolf said the board could, but without a good sense of whether or not voters would support an amendment, she felt it would not be appropriate.
"Frankly, I would like to hear that from voters before we ask people to step forward and volunteer to serve on the amendment committee, hire a planning professional, and go through that process to develop the alternative language," said Wolf.
Darrell Gudroe asked why the board cannot draft a warrant article that asks voters if they support the proposals pending a change to the comprehensive plan. Wolf said she believes the town attorney would recommend against it because it would not likely be legal. Tomko added, the two issues most likely cannot be paired because creating or changing a comprehensive plan must go to the state for approval.
“If language is off or something, it would not seem effective to have the two linked because first, you need the approval from the town, then it gets run up to Augusta and gets approved, and once that's approved then you have the guiding document.”
Tomko described the advisory workgroup process as one of discovery and the time spent on researching and forming the proposals was not wasted. He cited the removal of investment in the east side and large public turnout as an indicator the zoning code should be reviewed.
“Let's be serious about what the comp plan says. It talks about preserving and it talks about fostering the maritime/water-dependent area. (Much) of what has been proposed is not fostering. We need to, as a community, decide if we are going in a different direction. And I expect that there should be conversations with context of what that actually means.”
Selectman Tricia Warren proposed beginning the process of posing a question on the Nov. 6 ballot asking voters if they would support amending the comprehensive plan consistent with the east side zoning proposals. After further discussion, her motion was amended to add education on what those changes would entail. The motion passed unanimously. A public hearing has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 27 in the town office.
Financial officer Julia Latter said the town’s revenue and expenses, year to date, total $1,064,176 and $665,223, respectively. The total accounts payable are $509,072.39 and the bank balance is $2,625,752.94.