Public forum airs unease
Gifts of properties to the town are not planning board matters, Boothbay Harbor Planning Board Chair Bill Hamblen said May 9. Hamblen's statement prefaced a long discussion on George and Susan Craig’s “Another Option” advertisement.
Hamblen also cited errors in widely circulated emails which critiqued the zoning change plans on the east side of the harbor. Hamblen said the claims that zoning changes would privatize the entire east side and would restrict public access are not true, as the town already owns property and a stretch of Atlantic Avenue is already privatized. “There's also nothing in the proposed zoning that would restrict waterfront access for the general public beyond what private ownership already does,” Hamblen said, adding, the proposed new construction impact fees would give the town capital to pursue easements and property buys.
Hamblen reiterated the zoning changes do not lift the maritime and water-dependent designations, they add further uses to the new proposed district. "It means that if someone currently has a working waterfront business, decides to change their mind and sell, a subsequent buyer would not be precluded from changing that use to something else," Susan Craig said. Hamblen verified her statement. The Craigs spent more than 20 minutes reading statements and speaking to the idea of raising enough money to buy Atlantic Avenue property to preserve for public and commercial access. Resident Mike McBride aired his concern that the maintenance of a public property gifted to the town would decrease tax revenue and increase expenses. "My taxes and everybody else’s are going to go up if we make that a public land," said McBride.
Sea Pier owner Douglas Carter said the Craigs' ad was why he attended the meeting. He felt inviting people to discuss an issue under the select board's purview was inappropriate. George Craig argued the discussion is relevant to the planning board because it ties into talks on the east side zoning and planning the town’s future. Preventing the conversation should be considered a “dereliction of duty," he said. “It is incumbent on you to bring to bear all the pressure at your disposal to fix this because if you don't, that means this community has started down the slippery slope of rejecting good ideas to accommodate a singular vision and then we're really not a community at all."
Boothbay Lobster Wharf owner Tom Philbrick said if lobstering ever leaves the harbor, owners of maritime businesses like his would have no way to back out of the industry without severe loss. "It ties people like Douglas and myself, our hands, in looking at other options … It wouldn't put us on the same playing field as everyone on the east side." Carter and Philbrick maintain if lobstering leaves the harbor, the zoning changes would enable them to sell their properties at a profit and the changes would give working waterfront properties more equity, which could be reinvested in maritime industries.
The full meeting will be available on BRTV’s website.
The board discussed fine-tuning the proposed Atlantic Avenue Mixed Use District. Hamblen said the Department of Environmental Protection advises justifying the board’s recommendations and not calculating separated lots as contiguous. Hamblen said the board’s recommendations to selectmen must be substantiated with data, which can come from the advisory workgroup's research, and that all traces of counting adjacent properties in common ownership as contiguous would have to be scrapped. Board member Chris Swanson proposed limiting the recommendations to revising scheduled uses, adopting the 25-foot setback, extending the zone past the footbridge up to the Union Street/Townsend Avenue intersection and separating the proposed height limit and impact fee sections, making them all encompassing, town-wide based ordinances for voters to consider separately.
Vice chair Tom Churchill seconded the motion for discussion and as the board agreed with the sentiment, Hamblen said he would not favor such sweeping changes to the proposal this far into the process. The motion failed, 1-4. Churchill moved to allow common wall residential units to be built at the customary density of six units per acre or to allow second floor units over commercial uses at the same density requirements. No one seconded the motion. "I am loathe to be making up significant changes on the fly," said Hamblen.
"We're not going to conclude this tonight. It's going to go on. I would say if you want to go back and think about how maybe this could be crafted and presented, we'll address it eventually." Hamblen asked for consensus on the changes to the proposed ordinance language that he came up with – to delete all references to contiguous lots, correct a typo which left out the permitted use of neighborhood grocery stores, and change the calculation of the impact fee to five percent of a yet-to-be-determined value of square footage, rather than of the total project cost. The board took no vote but supported the changes.
Corey Tibbetts asked for a pre-application discussion about installing three disc-golf holes behind his business at 107 Eastern Ave. Tibbetts clarified patrons would have free access. "Basically what I want to do is just landscaping in a sense," Tibbetts said. "(There are) woods out back that go almost all the way to a fence where there are Boothbay Region Land Trust trails … People can come in, eat a sandwich, throw a couple holes.” Swanson doubted it needed the board's approval. The board agreed.
The board meets next at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 13 in the town office.