July 16, 2020

Pittsfield panel seeks direction on zoning> Planners feel unable to help developers

PITTSFIELD — Planning board members are worried future growth might be stunted because current town ordinances are inadequate.

Planning board members say they are distraught over the lack of information and training that has handcuffed them from helping local businesses locate, expand or even advertise.

Unable to fit some development scenarios into Pittsfield’s zoning, the planners begged for help Monday night.

“We need more information so that we don’t make knee-jerk recommendations,” said planner Peg Gray. “The planning board has been made to look like a bunch of ninnies for the past six months. We need more information [about our options for zoning] before we can even have an intelligent discussion on this.”

Planners acknowledged that the original zones in Pittsfield were created based mainly on what was already there. A tire supplier was located in the industrial zone — so tire sales was made a conditional use. A flying service was already in place at the airport — so such services were allowed in that zone.

Inconsistencies in the zoning, however, have created a bottleneck for potential developers and often have planners confused about how to help orderly development in town.

Town Manager D. Dwight Dogherty suggested the panel contact an attorney familiar with zoning issues to clarify one member’s suggestion that conditional zoning be adopted in Pittsfield.

Jack Lynch described conditional zoning as the ability to zone a single parcel of land for a particular use, not normally allowed in that zone, but with conditions. He said the conditional zoning would only be allowed after several public hearings and would only be effective as long as the property was owned by the person requesting the zone change.

Dogherty, however, pointed out that this was very close to what a variance accomplishes and the board of appeals is the only agency that can grant a variance. Also, a variance can be granted only after four specifically designated criterion have been met.

Developer Stan Kitchen has been trying to locate a driving range on a parcel of land across the street from his golf course. Because of zoning restrictions, he cannot. Kitchen the planners Monday to add driving ranges as a conditional use in that zone, which has a residential designation.

But planners were uneasy about changing things for the entire zone. “To change the conditional uses would not change it just for Stan,” said Dogherty, “but for all R-3 areas.”

Dale Penney of Penney Pincher’s Discount Stores was in the same dilemma. He asked the board to add retail sales as a conditional use in the industrial zone to allow him to move his downtown business into the former shoddy mill by Pioneer Dam. His business representative, Yvonne Young, said such a change would open up other industrial zones for retail sales and would provide many new opportunities for businesses in Pittsfield.

Young, who is also a Pittsfield councilor, suggested that the planners could allow specific conditional uses subject to council approval of zone changes. But planners felt the process should be less complicated and rooted in case-by-case decisions.

“There has to be some way to keep people in this town from twisting in the wind,” said Lynch, referring to the more than eight months that Kitchen has attempted to locate the driving range.

Lynch agreed that legal advice was a necessity. “Setting up framework that is legal is the most important challenge before us,” he said.

Planners agreed to get legal recommendations on the specific cases before them from the staff at Maine Municipal Association and then, if they still have more questions.

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