LCRPC to spearhead Boothbay Harbor housing, ordinance review

Sun, 07/25/2021 - 7:30am

Boothbay Harbor enlisted Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission May 3 for an ordinance review and socioeconomic evaluation relating mainly to housing. The town issued a request for proposals March 6 and LCRPC responded April 2. The two parties discussed a reorganization of priorities April 27 and a revision was presented May 3. Lincoln County commissioners approved the contract May 18. Estimated costs are $9,130 with work billed at $55 an hour and $55.04 additional for travel.

LCRPC will analyze and consult on town codes, regional housing and resource trends, housing inventory and a written report on the relevance of the 2018 Economic Development Master Plan. The data and recommendations will inform the town as it moves forward with a new comprehensive plan, a harbor master plan and potential code changes with housing as a priority.

“LCRPC will be looking at the peninsula as a whole for resources, what's available for jobs, but primarily focusing on our codes, our housing market here in Boothbay Harbor,” Town Manager Julia Latter said in an interview. “I think this is our first step in defining what we have out there, how we make our codes more user friendly to allow affordable housing and allow (development) in general.”

Code Enforcement Officer Geoff Smith said June 14 after 30 years of the town creating a patchwork of corrections, changes and cross-references, the town needs to make the code understandable which should start with at least a land use rewrite or reorganization. Comprehensive change to the “spiderweb” of language is necessary because nearly any change dictates change elsewhere in the code, he said. “We could be spending a lot of time now to find out what we're changing has no meaning at all … It would probably confuse the process later and make it even more complex for somebody who's going to lead us later through a rewrite.”

LCRPC’s county planner Emily Rabbe will head up the work in a multi-pronged approach including comparing county and town data. Most of the ordinance review will focus on land use including shoreland zoning, site plan and subdivision code and comparing them to the 2015 comp plan to see if the town’s goals and code align, Rabbe said in an interview. Whether or not the 2015 goals and town code match may be irrelevant since the COVID-19 pandemic has caused people to reevaluate their housing desires, she said.

“Then, the question becomes, ‘What changes do you want?’ Maybe cluster subdivisions as opposed to the traditional two-acre lot? Are you contemplating mixed-use development in the downtown where you do have those apartments that are above office space and retail space on the first floor? Certainly, this process is just getting off the ground.”

The scope of work is not huge, Latter and Rabbe each said. The data will be a snapshot of trends in workforce housing, affordable housing and short-term rentals over time as well as trends since the start of the pandemic. The deep dive will be into the code language and possible changes to match the 2015 comp plan or dictate new direction in a future comp plan.

The deliverables have no date, but both parties agreed it must be well in advance of the May 2022 annual meeting so any changes can appear before voters. Rabbe said work will start at full speed in August and carry on through fall and winter with reports to come after the new year.

Said Latter, “We're not going to take the whole book right now and do an ordinance revision, but we can start getting it in motion. If this gains momentum, it should go right into gathering up people to begin the comp plan and even getting a planner to help us through that process … I look forward to getting a report and not just having it be another thing to go on the shelf, but something for us to actually move forward with.”