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News Feature

Castine
Originally published in Castine Patriot, December 6, 2012
Castine resident urges continued focus on affordable housing issues

by Sharon Bray

At the Board of Selectmen meeting Monday, December 3, resident Arnold Berleant asked for renewed attention to affordable housing issues.

He described the town as “desperate” in its need for a year-round population to support business.

“We’ve been beating around this for years and nothing has been done,” said Berleant.

“This is the fourth time the town has looked seriously into affordable housing,” Board Chairman Peter Vogell said.

Selectmen’s response to voter defeat of a change in the town’s zoning ordinance in November was a pledge to revisit parts of the problem early in 2013.

John Macdonald, member of the former Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee’s subcommittee on housing, said any effort to provide lower cost housing would require “financial breaks” for a developer. He noted that “the trailer park” offered the most realistic possibility.

Besides, Macdonald said, “People in affordable housing need places to work.”

Berleant noted the “constant stream” of traffic on routes 166 and 166A transporting people from other towns to jobs in Castine.

Most are commuting to jobs at Maine Maritime Academy according to Selectman Gus Basile. He added that MMA faculty earn enough to live in Castine.

Resident Scott Vogell said those commuters are “exactly the people you want.” Most of them are not faculty but work at maintenance and other academy jobs. Many have “little kids” who would help fill Adams school.

“I’m uncomfortable with where we stand on these issues,” stated Selectman David Unger. He called for a work session of the board to “figure out step by step” how to revisit the problems.

As they decided to start with a work session at 9 a.m., Tuesday, December 11, Peter Vogell agreed on the need for immediate action to “figure out what direction we’re going to go in.”

Unger called for all who have been working on Castine’s housing issues previously to join selectmen in setting a direction.

Sue Macdonald, who chaired the now-defunct CPIC, gave an animated plea: “It would be a tragedy to just start all over again,” particularly on issues related to zoning.

“We need to identify what has been done that is good and should be continued,” responded Unger.

Selectmen agreed that future meetings should be scheduled at different times, so other interested people could attend.

At the request of Basile, the board revisited the November 19 decision to waive parking rules for MMA students renting a house on Court Street.

Basile said he and Peter Vogell had “discovered you can fit four cars in the driveway.”

Besides, said Vogell, the temporary permission to park between the house and the street was contingent on selectmen receiving a copy of a letter from the tenants to their landlord about the need to provide adequate parking for renters.

Vogell said he wants to notify the students that in the hours between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. (as listed in the town’s parking ordinance) all cars must be parked in the driveway.

“There’s room. We measured it,” said Basile.

Finance Officer Karen Motycka suggested that selectmen hold off on any action until their next meeting to give the town office time to notify the students “so they can be here.”

Selectmen also put off action on paying the bill from a company hired by the recreation committee to evaluate town-owned land at the Back Shore. The company had given an estimate of about $400, but the bill came in at nearly $700.

The consultants determined that most of the property is wetlands and unsuitable for large-scale playing field development, according to Town Manager Dale Abernethy speaking at the November 19 selectmen’s meeting.

In other business, Pat Bishop, chairman of the newly established community economic development committee, reported on events and progress.

Her list included hiring a part-time economic development consultant; the addition of limited physical therapy services at the Castine health center; membership in the Blue Hill Peninsula Chamber of Commerce; the Compass Rose bookstore selling MMA hats and other items previously available only at the academy bookstore; membership in the statewide Downtown Network; Waterfront Wednesday concerts in the summer followed in the fall by Watering Hole Wednesdays. The group has been active in winter holiday events and decorating the town and has a list of events already planned for 2013, according to Bishop.

Posting of 911 addresses came up for discussion based on a letter from Michael Morrison raising concern about how out-of-town ambulance service drivers locate callers.

First responders in Castine usually arrive before the ambulance, Peter Vogell said, and someone stands beside the road to show the ambulance driver where to stop.

For some calls, Bishop said, a dispatcher advises the caller to open a garage door and turn on lights.

Unger said he favors visible posting of residence numbers, unlike his own which is on his garage.

Basile noted that off-neck residents generally have their numbers on mail boxes.

Some other towns, according to Abernethy, have standard sign posts beside driveways. The town could order reflective numbers or signs to sell to residents, he added.

“It is in everybody’s interest to have addresses visible,” commented Berleant.

Postings should be uniform, said Motycka, but such a requirement would have to be voted on.