Originally published in Castine Patriot, August 22, 2013
Castine citizens, selectmen grapple with proposed changes
Land use, streetscape at forefront
Town Manager Dale Abernethy explains the role of the planning board at the August 19 selectmen’s meeting.
by Anne Berleant
At the heart of the selectmen’s meeting on August 19 was the question, who controls the future of Castine? Selectmen say it is the townspeople.
“How do you know what the townspeople want?” asked Judy Fitzsimmons.
“Just from the people speaking here,” replied Selectman Gus Basile.
But with a special town meeting on proposed land use changes set for September 23 and a redesigned downtown in the near future, citizens have raised conflicting perspectives at public hearings and meetings.
The first item of business at the August 19 meeting was a request by the Community and Economic Development Committee to hire a town planner to draft the downtown streetscape.
Infrastructure work slated to begin in 2014—pending town approval—means tearing up downtown streets, giving Castine a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to change its look and feel, Town Manager Dale Abernethy stated at a public meeting last November. This was the second such meeting held with Olver Associates, the Winterport engineering firm hired to design and implement the infrastructure improvements.
The streetscape plan submitted by Olver Associates was met earlier this month with dismay by a larger group of citizens than had attended the initial meetings. Designer Ted Lameyer proposed his own version that many think preserves the historic character of the town while allowing more parking spaces, a factor important to downtown merchants. Other citizens have stated that handicapped accessibility should be considered.
“We all care about different elements of Castine,” said Lynda MacArthur. “[But] we can’t afford to keep putting it off.”
The problem with hiring a town planner, Joe Slocum said, is that the first thing he or she will ask is “What does Castine want?”
This is similar to what Bill Olver asked back in November, when he asked downtown business and property owners, “What does success look like to you?”
Now the questions have been thrown out to the larger community and the answer is quite different.
Slocum recommended hiring a facilitator who could help build a consensus on the streetscape.
“The Comprehensive Plan states ‘preserve our village character’ and ‘work on infrastructure.’ That’s what we’re doing,” said Sue Macdonald, chairman of the now-disbanded Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee. “The Design [Sub]Committee needs to focus and get the job done.”
Selectmen said they would wait to take specific action until the CED meets on Friday, August 23.
The planning board’s power or lack thereof
With an upcoming special town meeting on proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance, selectmen have asked for citizen input. The 40 proposed warrant articles affect the land use table, allowing uses, with planning board approval, that the current ordinance does not.
The now-disbanded CPIC Zoning Subcommittee worked for 18 months on a revised zoning ordinance, but its proposed land use changes proved controversial and selectmen pulled them before an unsuccessful November 2012 ordinance vote. They then put a “baseline” ordinance to voters in June, which passed, promising to tackle land use amendments afterwards.
“Not everything in this [warrant] was recommended by the Zoning Subcommittee,” said Bob Friedlander, former chairman of that committee and a member of the planning board. “It would be helpful if Dale [Abernethy] noted this.”
Abernethy said he could do so.
Sally Foote stated that changing a specific land use from “not allowed” to “planning board” on the land use table is misleading. “It makes people think the planning board can decide.”
That is not the case.
“The planning board can only follow the zoning ordinance that people pass,” said Basile.
If a specific use is allowed, whether a bed and breakfast, auto service station or retail shop, an individual must submit a site plan review application to the planning board. The board then determines whether it meets the requirements laid out by the zoning ordinance.
“Unless you read the zoning ordinance, you don’t know that,” said Foote.
“That’s correct,” said Abernethy.
Some citizens at the meeting balked at having to read the ordinance in order to understand the warrant articles. Others felt that the warrant’s format was confusing.
“I agree wholeheartedly,” said Chairman Peter Vogell. “But our legal system says we have to do it this way.”
“I think there’s enough confusion and enough uncertainty that a vote in September will be a ‘no’ across the board,” said Gordon MacArthur.
Planning board members Friedlander and Pär Kettis said the purpose of its public hearing on Thursday, September 12, is to explain what each warrant article means. The board then recommends or does not recommend to selectmen that it pass. Each recommendation will become part of the warrant put to voters at the special town meeting on Monday, September 23.
In addition, the special town meeting moderator will explain what a “yes” or “no” vote means for each article, Vogell said.
The warrant is available online at the town website: castine.me.us/wpcontent/uploads/ 2013/07/Special-Town-Meeting-Warrant-Draft-4-2013-08-02.pdf, as is the current zoning ordinance at castine.me.us/wpcontent/uploads/2013/ 03/Zoning-Ordinance-2013-06-01.pdf.
In other business, selectmen voted to amend the boards and committee policy to require “proper decorum” at committee and board meetings; for “citizens to strive to be accurate” and to avoid profane language; and that the committee chairman “may ask any person disrupting to cease or leave” and, “at his or her discretion, request a law enforcement officer or continue the meeting at another time.”
Finally, selectmen unanimously voted to allow a paranormal group to investigate Fort George. The group’s letter of request stated that Castine is known for its historical past “as well as being known for its paranormal activity.”
CED: Friday, August 23, 10 a.m.
Selectmen: Tuesday, September 3, 4 p.m.
Planning Board Public Hearing: September 12, 7 p.m.
Special Town Meeting: Monday, September 23, 6 p.m.
Meetings held at Emerson Hall