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News Feature

Castine
Originally published in Castine Patriot, July 26, 2012
Deadline looms for Castine zoning ordinance revision
Under discussion: multiple-family dwellings off neck, mobile home park conversion

Click here to see the full Castine Zoning Archive.

by Anne Berleant

To meet its self-imposed deadline of an Election Day vote of November 6, the committee tasked with revising the subdivision and zoning ordinances must have selectmen certify the ordinances and sign warrants by October 1. Two previous deadlines set by the subcommittee have passed by, and members unanimously agreed to be ready for a November vote.

“Certain critical issues have been put to rest,” Liz Parish said at the July 16 meeting. “Hot bed issues, like density and notification.”

The October 1 cut-off allows time for a planning board work session, a public hearing and selectmen review before state absentee ballots are issued.

The subdivision ordinance revision is complete and public hearings have been held. Its major change is a new article allowing “affordable” cluster housing off neck, with a bonus density and wetlands used in lot calculations. The committee has handed off the burden of how to define and provide for affordable housing in perpetuity to the CPIC’s housing committee. A copy of the proposed subdivision ordinance is available at castine.me.us.

With their work now focused on the zoning ordinance, the committee has revised the land use table to give the CEO power to approve many building and use permits previously held by the planning board, changed abutter notification procedure for those uses, and is now revising Article 6, Performance Standards. A June 16 revision is also available on the town’s website.

The zoning subcommittee works under the auspices of the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee, formed as a municipal body to put into effect recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan. The plan was approved at town vote in 2010, and recommends revising the zoning and subdivision ordinances for clarity, to simplify permit regulations for construction, and ease restrictions on commercial and residential development, especially in the off-neck area, to revitalize the community.

Preserving off neck “rural character”

During three meetings held in July, Articles 6.20, Two-Family and Multi-Family Dwelling Units, and 6.19, Mobile Home Parks, have generated the most, and most heated, discussions.

Gone is the differentiation in section 6.20.1 between rural and village districts for new two-family dwellings or conversions from one-family to two-family dwellings; the lot size for those districts is 150 percent of the minimum lot size for a single-family dwelling. Previously, that section only applied to the Commercial and Village I and Village II districts.

Section 6.20.2, detailing standards for new construction of or conversions to a multi-family unit, now applies to all districts except for the Shoreland Overlay District, but the committee has not reached consensus as to the density requirements.

The initial revision of 50 percent minimum lot size requirement for each dwelling unit added after the first unit raised strong disagreement, with some members stating this would negatively impact the character of the rural district. The rural district is the only district with enough open land to allow for a multiple-family dwelling with a large number of units.

Under such a provision, a single 38-unit building could be constructed on a 40-acre parcel of land.

“The idea that anyone can construct this without an affordability clause” is not within the mandate of the zoning subcommittee,” member Doug Koos said at the July 23 meeting. “It changes the character of the rural district.”

Other members disagreed. “We’re not going to be able to have economic viability unless we increase the density of the town,” Liz Parish said.

Scott Vogell raised the future need for elderly housing as another reason for the density change.

“What you’re talking about is a [housing] project,” Tom Comicciotto said, before chairman Bob Friedlander called for a “reality check.”

Vogell, in favor of the change, pointed out that a forty-acre lot could also be split into parcels, with each eligible for one multi-family unit.

Raising the lot size requirement to 100 percent for units after the first was a unifying suggestion by Town Manager Dale Abernethy. This would allow a 20-unit dwelling set on a 40-acre lot, with wetlands not allowed in lot size calculations.

These are the same requirements as in the current ordinance—which are not addressed in section 6.20, which only limits multi-family dwellings in specific districts—and are spelled out in the land use table (section 5.4) and dimensional requirements table (section 5.5). Members will vote on the revision to section 6.20.1 at their meeting next Monday.

One idea that does have committee backing is creating an Affordable Housing Zone, whether in the zoning ordinance itself or through a contract zoning permit issued by the planning board.

This is specifically aimed at allowing Doug Koos, who owns the mobile home park off Route 166A, to convert mobiles homes to two-story modular homes.

Koos is developing a proposal, with help from the Housing Subcommittee, which would allow 60 homes on the existing 34-acre lot. The utitilities and septic infrastructure already in place can support that number of units, Koos said

The mobile home park is grandfathered to have 5,000 square feet per mobile home, and state statute now allows 50 percent of mobile homes to be converted to one-story manufactured homes in an existing mobile home park.

Committee members view the idea of converting the mobile home park into “basically a subdivision,” as Comicciotto described it at the July 16 meeting, of affordable housing as a viable alternative to allowing affordable cluster housing development off neck, which has raised the ire of some off-neck residents.

Koos’s idea has the support of the housing and zoning subcommittees, but both need to see a specific proposal before moving forward.

“This is an ideal start for affordable housing,” Jack Macdonald, chairman of the housing subcommittee, said at the July 16 meeting. “[It’s] repurposing existing land and existing facilities.”

Koos has said that if the plan moves forward, the existing mobile home tenants would be automatically granted homes at the same rent they now pay. A percentage of the homes would be rented or sold at market rate, with the number being determined by whether a bank or Koos subsidizes the “affordable” ones.

After the July 26 meeting, Koos said that the difference between his idea and that of allowing high-density multi-family dwellings off neck, to which he is opposed, is that allowing “that kind of density” in an undeveloped property would change the character of the rural area, although requiring such housing to be deemed “affordable” would be a “giveback to the town for allowing it.”

“Today, my [proposed] density is allowed” in mobile home units, he said, adding that his idea isn’t profit-driven. “If it was, I would have already expanded, using mobile homes,” he said. Profits would help subsidize the existing tenants in new houses. “I only want to see an improvement in the quality of residences there.”

The zoning subcommittee holds its next meeting on Monday, July 30, at 10 a.m., at Emerson Hall, where it will decide on a final revision to Article 6, Performance Standards, regulating home occupations and two- and multifamily dwellings.