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Bath eyes density bonus for smart-growth projects

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Bath eyes density bonus for smart-growth projects

BATH — Projects in the city's densest residential zone that are built as smart growth and green developments could eventually be allowed to have higher densities than currently allowed, City Planner Jim Upham said this week.

Architect and developer Catherine Davis approached the Planning Board on Tuesday about implementing such an incentive-based bonus point system for her Old Shipyard condominium project, which has received city approval and is to be built on Front Street at the foot of Pearl Street. The system would be intended to encourage developers to construct Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings within half a mile of Bath's downtown.

LEED certification requires properly enclosed insulation, the use of sustainable materials, implementation of efficient systems for heating and lighting, and water-saving appliances, Upham said.

There is also a LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, which could apply in Old Shipyard's case. This system covers not only buildings, but their proximity to downtowns and how a development addresses issues such as storm water run-off.

"The whole idea of this smart growth is encouraging development that's within walking distance of the downtown, and everything that I've read says that a walking distance is a half a mile," Upham said. "People aren't going to walk more than that, buy groceries and walk home."

Bath's downtown stands in the city's commercial zone, while Residential 1 – Bath's densest residential zone – surrounds it.

In complying with standards of environmental efficiency set by the town, the developer could be eligible for a density bonus that would allow for a project to include more units than would otherwise be permitted.

The Old Shipyard project is currently approved for 20 units. Upham said it has yet to be decided just how many more units could be allowed.

There is currently no minimum lot size per downtown dwelling unit , Upham said. Residential 1 requires 6,000 square feet of land per dwelling unit. If the density allowance were doubled, that requirement could shrink to 3,000 square feet.

Upham called the smart growth/green development concept near downtown "a great idea," adding that elements in Bath's comprehensive plan encourage LEED concepts for neighborhoods and low-impact developments.

"Treating storm water and preventing erosion, and building close to the bus route, building close to the downtown, doing all these smart things, is a public benefit," he said. "It's good for the downtown."

While higher density developments would not be as appropriate further away from downtown, having them closer to that community hub makes more sense, the planner stated.

The Planning Board favored the concept and instructed Upham to establish a set of criteria for consideration of future LEED neighborhood projects.

"If this were adopted and part of the land use code, in the (Residential 1) zone there would be two sets of densities," the planner said. One, if you just build normally, and a different density if you meet 100 percent of all these other items."

Items, Upham explained, could include being close to the downtown and LEED-certified, having low impact as a development and being on a bus route.

The Planning Board would have to establish the criteria, and hold a public hearing on the matter and recommend it to the council, and the alternative density table would require an ordinance change to be approved by the City Council.

Upham said the process will take at least several months, although he might bring criteria language back to the Planning Board as early as next month.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.