CAMDEN – The Planning Board has scheduled a public informational session for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, to discuss the harbor business district moratorium, which expires today.
The board also plans to seek final approval of the proposed Mountain Arrow subdivision plan.
Nearly two-thirds of the town’s residents voted in November for a six-month moratorium on allowing residential development in the harbor business district. The moratorium was to give the Planning Board time to work on new zoning regulations that would preserve a working waterfront.
A feature of the moratorium was that it contained a retroactivity clause, meaning it took effect two months before the day it passed. The retroactivity clause resulted in the Planning Board having four months rather than six months to do its work on the moratorium, which was set to expire March 10, Board Chairman Chris MacLean said at the Feb. 26 Select Board meeting.
The Planning Board on Feb. 26 went to the Select Board asking for a 180-day extension of the moratorium but was rejected unanimously.
The reason for the request, said MacLean, was that the issues concerning residential development and the harbor are important to the town.
“Essentially, we have one opportunity to get it right,” he told the Select Board. “I think we all recognize that once residential development comes into the harbor, that process isn’t going to be able to be reversed.”
The town vote last fall was a mandate for the Planning Board to address the zoning issues, he added, to try to meet the needs of business development and also to address the needs of preserving the inner harbor for the working waterfront.
The Planning Board has held seven meetings and put in more than 20 hours on the subject since November. The board has reached a consensus on a plan and has scheduled a public hearing on the new plan April 2 before it goes to a town vote in the general election June 11.
MacLean was concerned that an application could be filed between March 10 and June 11 requesting permission for residential development under the current ordinance.
Another concern of the Planning Board is for what could happen if the Select Board does not grant an extension beyond June 11 and another petition calling for a second moratorium were to come forward. The second petition might be more restrictive than the first one, he said.
MacLean said he understood the Select Board’s reluctance to extend the moratorium if members felt it restricted or hindered business development.
Select Board Chairman John French asked town attorney William Kelly to explain what might happen if the town didn’t accept the moratorium.
“Are there any additional extensions?” French asked. “How long might this go on?”
Kelly said the moratorium extensions could be granted for additional 180-day periods provided a municipality finds the original condition existing and the Planning Board is making good progress.
“It seems to limit the selectmen from extending this for anything other than 180-day periods,” Kelly said.
The current ordinance that applies to the harbor district the Planning Board is working on has been in effect since 1992. Selectman Anita Brosius-Scott asked MacLean why there is such urgency now after 16 years of dormancy.
“The best answer to that is it was a positive town vote back in November,” MacLean replied. “Because of that, the Planning Board was thrust in the midst of the issue. The town by a fairly large vote declared there was an emergency in the inner harbor.”
Brosius-Scott, referring to a public informational session on the topic held Jan. 2, recalled comments that it was too bad that no one had spoken against the moratorium.
MacLean said the Planning Board had publicized the January hearing and that 10 people had come and spoken in favor of restricting residential development in the harbor and preserving the working waterfront by trying to limit residential encroachment as called for in the town’s comprehensive plan.
“I don’t remember a single voice speaking in favor of residential development in the inner harbor,” MacLean said.
Wayfarer Marine, which had opposed the moratorium, has sent a representative to each of the Planning Board’s seven work sessions, MacLean said, adding that the Planning Board recognized there is opposition to the moratorium.
French asked MacLean whether the Planning Board had gone beyond the scope of the moratorium.
“The original intent was to address the residential. Now you’ve taken in the whole harbor as far as business uses and additional uses,” French said.
MacLean called French’s question fair, and said the board members had argued among themselves about the scope of the moratorium. He said the scope was open to interpretation.
The Planning Board set out to interpret the scope narrowly, but saw it was difficult to isolate single issues and better to treat the problem as a whole.
“The broadening of the scope came after many, many hours of the Planning Board discussions,” he said, adding that it was better for the town to see the ordinance in a global sense.