Boothbay Harbor selectmen held a public hearing Feb. 11 on the east side zoning proposals slated to appear on the May 3 ballot. The board walked through the entire process from language to zoning maps to use tables, taking questions section by section.
Several audience members expressed concern over the proposed schedule of uses limiting residences to upper floor areas above commercial uses. Bill Logan, Boothbay Harbor resident and lawyer for Paul Coulombe, said it was his understanding the zoning initiatives were supposed to expand uses, not make them nonconforming. Resident Susan Craig said the 2015 comprehensive plan suggested limiting residences to the upper floors in the downtown business district only and a process to extend that rule anywhere else should be done in a master plan to avoid apparent loopholes.
Planning Board Chair Bill Hamblen said the recommendation of these limits was made because the board began following up on the comp plan's suggestion before the whole east side process began.
“A number of the professional planners, when we were doing the comp plan, felt that ground floor residences were a significant threat to a vibrant commercial downtown community. We felt that was worth keeping in place and applying it to the east side.”
As in planning board and selectmen’s meetings in the past, the proposed town-wide height limit increase – 35 feet or 2 1/2 stories – drew concern that the five-foot increase would impact views from properties on the east side of Atlantic Avenue. Resident Ken Fitch noted that since Boothbay Harbor has no protections for its historic buildings, an increase in height limits could have unintended consequences.
Said Fitch, “Any builder will tell you it is cheaper to knock a building down and build it new to a higher level than it is to retrofit a building for an additional five feet. It just makes more sense. I think we need to be careful that we don't have wholesale destruction of historic buildings in this town to make them a little bit taller.”
View corridors were also a hot item. Some speakers felt the height limits and view corridors would be a good compromise. Others felt 20 feet of harbor view from the street for every 100 feet of lot frontage is insignificant.
Resident Cindy Watson asked if the height limit and view corridors were discussed as a joint compromise and agreement. Hamblen said they were.
“If they were (a compromise) and we're going to try and eliminate one, we should throw out the other as well,” said Watson.
Chair Wendy Wolf explained that for the proposals to become warrants for the May town meeting, the process would have to be done by March 1. This would give the town two full months before the vote and plenty of time to hold sessions educating the public on implications of the proposals passing. Code Enforcement Officer Geoff Smith said he has sat down with many throughout the process to answer questions, and he is willing to continue doing that.
In Selectman Denise Griffin's update on the Charter Committee's first meeting, she presented the board with a three-item agreement drafted at the committee’s first meeting. The agreement provides a short term fix to some of the more dated points in the 1956 binding charter.
With cost sharing to remain as it has between Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor, revisions include: raising the trustees' capital reserve to $140,000 with a yearly increase via CPI, requiring work of $20,000 or more to be put out to a competitive bid, and requiring any loan or bond initiatives of $250,000 or more to be put to a referendum vote.
All parties including the CSD school committee and trustees were supportive, said Griffin, and Boothbay's attorney finished looking over the language. Griffin said everyone would like the towns' boards of selectmen to make haste of signing off on the agreement so State Rep. Holly Stover can submit the changes as an emergency bill.
The motion to approve the changes was on the condition that Boothbay Harbor's attorney finds no issue with the language. In a 4 -1 vote, Wolf was the only member to vote against it. She cited her preference to take all steps with the town's attorney before holding a vote.
Under new business, the board approved Michelle Farnham for another two years as Registrar of Voters and also approved a letter of support for the Boothbay Region Maritime Foundation to seek a grant from Land for Maine's Future.
The next meeting will be at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25 in the meeting room of the town office.
This article has been updated from its original posting.