Brunswick council cool to proposed zoning changes

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BRUNSWICK — Town Councilors at a workshop Monday questioned the implications of proposed revisions to the town’s zoning ordinance – especially changes that would reduce the number of zones from 45 to 30.

“I think a lot of it (is) consolidation for consolidation’s sake,” Councilor Steve Walker, who used to work in the Planning Department and served on the Planning Board for seven years, said by phone Tuesday. “If the goal was to make this (a) more user-friendly (document), I don’t think we’ve met that goal.”

The Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee – composed of Planning Board members who have met more than 100 times in the past three years – attempted to streamline the town’s 20-year-old document, which is strewn with inconsistencies and fails to reflect objectives and developments in the 2008 Comprehensive Plan.

The committee has said the streamlining does not include major changes to the town’s neighborhoods. Rather, the logic behind consolidation intends to make the document more contemporary and user-friendly, according to Planning Board Chairman Charles Frizzle, a ZORC member.

To ensure that consolidation would not relax neighborhood restrictions, he said the committee “tightened (criteria) down” for developmental standards, found in draft Chapters 4 and 5.

“We have made it more objective,” he said.

His comment pushed back on criticism from Councilor Jane Millett, who again questioned whether the change shifts too much discretionary power to quasi-judicial boards – like the Planning Board and Village Review board – to decide what property owners and developers can build.

Her criticism extended to a draft change that simplifies building definitions – for example, the new ordinance eliminates specific categories for buildings.

“The intention is to look at impact,” Margaret Wilson told the council, explaining that the Planning Board would consider the impact – traffic, noise, etc. – of, for example, an office, not its purpose.

Frizzle also said that zones were combined based on consideration of what they already shared in common.

That explanation didn’t appease Walker, a self-described “splitter, not a lumper,” who said Tuesday that “lumping zones” would join districts by their “the lowest common denominator,” possibly allowing neighborhood protections to get “lost in the process.”

For example, Councilor Sarah Brayman pointed out a newly proposed zone (GC1) merges a district (CU1) that contains the core of Bowdoin College’s campus with the district containing its athletic fields (CU2).

“The neighbors have a (problem) with CU2 (changing),” she said Tuesday, echoing Walker.

The merger could allow the college to develop structures like warehouses and 70-foot buildings on the fields that border a residential neighborhood.

When those fears surfaced at a public hearing last November, a representative from Bowdoin said the college had no immediate intentions to develop the fields, in light of the new proposed ordinance.

“I think all councillors should be looking at their districts” to see whether new restrictions are imposed or lifted, Brayman said.

Walker agreed. He said he won’t advocate for an overhaul of the ordinance, but certain areas might be subject to revisions.

“It’s clear that there are changes the certain neighborhoods feel (are major),” he said.

Brayman said her concerns are not a board critique of the ordinance.

“It’s not the act of consolidation itself, it’s the change in requirements” that prompted her questions, she said.

The council also spent a substantial portion of Monday debating the scale of a new coastal protection zone in east Brunswick.

To heed a directive in the 2008 Comprehensive Plan, the new draft creates two new coastal protection zones in the New Meadows area, RP1 and RP2.

Both zones impose stricter-than-usual regulation on the area to reduce development and protect the watershed area, although RP1 is less restrictive.

East Brunswick Councilor David Watson requested the zones be split in order to reduce regulations.

But Walker argued Monday the two zones should be combined, and said Tuesday that the separation “sort of treats land owners there differently than every other coastal land owner in Brunswick.”

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

The Brunswick Town Council on Monday, April 10, debated changes in a proposed draft of a new zoning ordinance.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.