BRUNSWICK — The Town Council suspended its rules Monday and voted unanimously for a comprehensive overhaul of the town’s zoning ordinance.
Although one councilor opposed the rules suspension, saying the subsequent vote would be “rushed,” the vote to approve the lengthy document was 8-0, with Councilor Suzan Wilson absent.
The council also authorized metered parking at the long-term parking lot on Union Street – an action that might be the first step toward broader implementation of paid parking in the downtown business district.
Monday’s zoning vote culminated 3 1/2 years of discussions and more than 100 meetings on modernization of the ordinance and bringing zoning into accordance with the town’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan.
It will go into effect Sept. 6, or 30 days after adoption, according to Town Manager John Eldridge.
The drafting fell mainly to the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee, headed by Planning Board Chairman Charlie Frizzle. That committee turned a review of the document over to the council last winter, although Monday’s meeting was the council’s first public hearing on the final document.
Most councilors said they did not anticipate a vote on the code’s adoption Monday, given its heft and importance. They did vote, however, after several appeals from the public to hasten the action.
Those speakers represented most of the night’s public comment; they referred to construction projects and businesses proposals stuck in a “holding pattern,” unable to move forward without knowing if zoning would change or remain the same.
An executive summary and documents of the draft are available on the town’s website.
Much of the council’s subsequent, two-hour discussion was devoted to protocol and procedure – when and how the council should amend and adopt the draft – with less conversation about the document’s substance.
In part, that was because of the many workshops and hearings on the content that preceded the council’s official consideration of the final draft, which was presented to the panel July 10 by the Planning Board. That board later submitted five administrative revisions that the council adopted Monday.
But it was also due to the council’s indecision about whether to vote on the document Monday evening, and a lack of consensus about how to debate and incorporate revisions.
“I think the process has not been our finest hour,” Councilor Sarah Brayman said at the end of the 4 1/2-hour meeting.
Brayman was the only councilor who voted against suspending council rules to vote on whether a public hearing should take place the same night (the council needs six votes to allow the same-night vote).
Though she ultimately supported the final document, calling it a “good enough” compromise on a complex policy, she argued councilors should have delayed the vote in order to review late-coming information and public input.
During earlier, more substantive public meetings, councilors and members of the public nit-picked smaller changes, but more generally they took issue with the Planning Board’s consolidation of zones to modernize and streamline the old document.
That complaint surfaced most frequently from abutters of Bowdoin College’s south campus athletic fields, who almost unanimously protested the combination of two zones – CU1 and CU2 in the old draft – that would have allowed the college to construct three additional types of buildings in that area: warehouses, theaters, and telecommunications towers.
The consolidation would have also streamlined certain conditional uses to only require authorization by the Planning Board, while they previously also needed a special permit from the council.
The college defended the proposal to protect its own interests, although the council ultimately sided with the neighborhoods after Councilor Steve Walker moved to keep the zones separate.
Finally, the council delayed action on five amendments submitted only 40 minutes before the meeting by Councilor Dan Harris.
Councilors agreed they were too significant to debate Monday night, and recommended reviewing them after adopting the draft; several said the ordinance is a “living document” that can be amended any time.
In that spirit, Anne Breinich, director of planning and development, made the council aware of topics that will probably come up for consideration.
Those issues – including the regulation of short-term rentals and further subdividing the town’s shoreland zoning overlay district – surfaced within the re-write committee too far into the process to incorporate into Monday’s final version, she said.
The decision on parking means train and bus travelers will have to pay $5 a day to park in the long-term parking lot on Union Street starting next month.
The council amended the parking ordinance after Margo Knight, chairwoman of the Master Plan Implementation Committee, said there have been repeated complaints about the free lot being used by non-commuters.
Police Chief Richard Rizzo, who worked with Knight to draft the proposal, said the Police Department would meter parking using a kiosk capable of accepting debit and credit cards, similar to those used in Portland. Visitors will be able to extend their length of stay remotely using a smartphone app, he said.