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Topsham Comp Plan zoning language could be complete next May

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Topsham Comp Plan zoning language could be complete next May

TOPSHAM — The zoning work of the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee should be complete by next summer, Town Planner Rich Roedner said last week.

The work could be done by May, in time for Town Meeting, Roedner said, while open space language from the town's natural areas plan may not be ready for a town vote before fall 2010.

Topsham's latest Comprehensive Plan was approved at Town Meeting in 2005. In receiving feedback on the plan from the Maine State Planning Office, the town was informed that the document needed revision – in areas such as mobile home park overlays – before the state would approve it. Those changes were completed through 2006, and the following year the town voted to amend the updated plan.

At times, Roedner said, the state has "looked to restrict various forms of state funds – transportation money, different types of grants – from communities that don't have consistent comp plans."

The implementation committee began meeting soon after the 2005 approval. Its first task was to digest the state's comments. The town brought a consultant on board in 2006, with whom the committee worked to revise the plan to address the state's issues with the document.

While the committee tends to meet once a month, Roedner said, from last August to this May the committee met twice monthly to delve into two concurrent projects. One was to continue the work the group had been doing, on items such as a development transfer ordinance and residential zoning changes. The other was to draft zoning language and implement the town's Main Street Village Plan, which was adopted at Town Meeting last year. The zoning and site plan language in that plan were worked into the town code.

The committee's work has also included writing language to expand some of the non-residential uses the town allows in residential areas. Reuse potential for old agricultural buildings has been broadened, as have the scope and size of home-based occupations, where appropriate.

The committee has nearly finished its work on mobile home park overlays, the language for which should be coming before residents at an upcoming Town Meeting. The group is also conducting an industrial district review. That work should be complete in late fall, Roedner anticipates.

"And then we'll go into the last area that we want to focus on, which is the (Residential 3) zone," the planner said, referring to the rural area of Topsham, which includes about 60 percent of town.

The committee will work on zoning for that area and at the same time incorporate zoning language that implements the natural areas plan that was recently completed and is up for adoption at an upcoming Town Meeting.

"Those are the main items that remain to fully implement the zoning part of our comprehensive plan," Roedner said.

Looking beyond that work, the planner said there has been thought of creating a staff-supported long-range planning committee.

"Particularly when the Planning Board is busy doing project reviews, like we were three years ago, we didn't have much time to do a lot of zoning work," Roedner said. "We'd find issues with the codes, and they just didn't have the ability to do anything about it. So there's a train of thought that says you have the Planning Board that does the project reviews and issues the permits and all that kind of stuff, and have a long-range planning committee that looks at the quality of the codes and is kind of monitoring that, looking for issues, correcting them as they come up."

Freeport has taken a similar tack, having both a Planning Board and a Project Review Board.

Roedner said towns are typically expected to revisit their Comprehensive Plan every decade.

"It's like the census," he explained. "You take a breather every 10 years to see how you've changed."

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