Brunswick zoning overhaul consultant: Keep it simple

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BRUNSWICK — The consultant hired to lead the town’s proposed zoning ordinance overhaul on Wednesday said his primary goal is to simplify.

Don Elliott, of Denver-based Clarion Associates, outlined his intent in an hour-long meeting at Brunswick Junior High School, one of a series of public forums that will help shape the town’s future development rules.

He said the town’s zoning is currently more complicated than Philadelphia’s. The City of Brotherly Love has about 36 zoning districts for 134 square miles of land, Elliott said, while Brunswick has about 45 zoning districts for 47 square miles.

“My initial reaction is, ‘this is a pretty complicated code for this town,'” Elliott said. “‘We ought to make it simpler.'”

The consultant said that after considering public input, his firm will come back in January with an outline of which parts of the zoning ordinance should be changed.

Initial recommendations for changes will aim to make the structure of the zoning ordinance more intuitive, place an emphasis on form-based codes over use-based codes, find a common language with reuse code for Brunswick Landing, and incorporate greater use of graphics and illustrations.

“I think one of the basic questions zoning ordinances ought to answer is, ‘how do I get to yes?'” Elliott said.

The consultant assured the 15 or so attendees that he and his colleagues aim to make the overhaul process as transparent as possible, with maximum public input.

Elliott said he and the town’s Planning and Developer Department will advertise and document every meeting held in the year-long process.

In part, he said, this will guard against people who come late to the process with objections, claiming they never heard about it.

“Late in the process, it’s very effective to say … ‘well, we’ve had 27 meetings that were posted on the Web and they were advertised in the papers,'” he said. “… You say that and, frankly, some of the people who came to say, ‘I didn’t know what’s going on,’ don’t stand up because it’s a little embarrassing to say, ‘well, I didn’t know any of this.'”

At the same time, however, Elliott said the process will slow down when “it’s clear there are some important interests that really, genuinely feel left out.”

“This has to represent the will of the community,” he said. “… I’m really good at not letting loud voices take over the process, but if it gets to the end and it sounds like there are reasonable points not taken into account, the Planning Board or Town Council will say, ‘let’s just slow this down and talk this out.'”

William Van Twisk, a Brunswick resident who previously worked as a planner, stressed the need for the town to stay committed to transparency and maximizing public input.

He also warned of the town’s unique political culture, which could create some challenges for the process, citing the repeal of a 1996 zoning ordinance overhaul.

“A lot of the challenges we have here in this town are these procedural challenges, in that we’ve had some very controversial hearings in the past,” Van Twisk said. 

Elliott said while he can’t prevent controversy, he noted he has never written an ordinance that was later repealed. 

Two more public forums will happen next week: Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. at Brunswick Junior High School, 65 Columbia Ave., and Dec. 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the community room of the Maine Technology Institute, 8 Venture Ave.

Planning and Development Director Anna Breinich said a total of about 35 people attended two sessions earlier Wednesday.

On Tuesday, she said, there were larger turnouts at the zoning ordinance overhaul’s introductory meetings, which included a forum with various stakeholders, like the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority and the Brunswick Sewer District.

The Planning Department has created a special web page for all meetings and materials concerning the zoning ordinance overhaul on the town’s website. The page is supposed to be updated throughout the next year until after the Town Council votes to approve the revised ordinance, expected to happen by December 2014.

The council appropriated $75,000 in this year’s budget to overhaul the town’s zoning ordinance, which received its last major update in 1997 and follows a recommendation from the 2008 Comprehensive Plan.

Clarion Associates was hired by the town after it and three other consulting firms responded to a request for proposal and were interviewed earlier this fall.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.