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Cumberland’s draft Comp Plan headed to public hearing

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Cumberland’s draft Comp Plan headed to public hearing

CUMBERLAND — A new draft Comprehensive Plan is being reviewed by the Planning Board before being sent to the Town Council for adoption later this year.

The Planning Board will continue a public hearing on the document – more than three years in the making – at Town Hall at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20. After starting that hearing Oct. 7, without any public comment, the board may vote to forward the plan to the council with a recommendation for adoption, said Town Planner Carla Nixon on Monday.

"My hope is that between that meeting and this meeting, people will take more interest than they have previously shown in the plan, and come to the meeting and ask some questions about it," she said.

The plan is available online at cumberlandmaine.com.

The existing plan was completed in 1998. The revision states that it strives for the next decade "to improve (Cumberland's) environmental & economic sustainability, to encourage quality affordable housing for individuals of all income levels and ages, to continue to expand its non-residential tax base, to honor its rich history, and to provide for a future in which moderate growth is accomplished through careful and thoughtful planning."

Cumberland has an aging population, according to the plan: a median age of 39.4 years, compared to the state's 33.8. Ages 45 to 64 make up the largest group of residents, and the 18-29 age group was the only one to decline in recent years.

High-priced, owner-occupied single family homes make up 96 percent of the town's housing.

"We don't have what they call transitional housing, and that's why we don't have a lot of young adults," Nixon said.

The median home price was $340,000 in 2005, which would require a household income of $116,000 to afford. Still, the median household income in 2000 was $67,500.

"That tells us that while people that are in their homes now bought them when they were affordable, they probably couldn't move into the community today on the income level that they have," Nixon said.

The plan calls for the continued encouragement of housing developments that facilitate a mix of people of all ages, trades, income strata and professions. Actions to achieve that goal include incentives for developers who create a portion of lots for buyers meeting affordable income guidelines; incentives for the building of smaller, single-family homes; the exemption of homes less than 1,500 square feet from the town's growth management and impact fee ordinances, as well as the development of a request for proposals concerning the town-owned Doane property in the center of Cumberland.

The need to shift the tax burden more from the residential sector to the commercial remains a goal, too. The town has experienced such little commercial development that even those areas zoned for commercial or rural industrial uses now have existing homes either adjacent or within them, according to the plan. Route 1 and Route 100 provide potential space for new commercial development, but debate continues over the most suitable types of commercial activity there.

The comprehensive planning process included a look at all areas of town to determine which types of commercial, residential or mixed development would be most appropriate.

The plan encourages agricultural businesses, calling for the reduction of restrictions on farm operations and buildings. It also promotes extra days and locations for farmers markets and the incorporation of locally grown food into the school nutrition program.

Among land-use goals and actions is one calling for the connection of major roads in town to provide more convenient and efficient bicycle, pedestrian and vehicular travel.

The plan also calls for enhancing the sustainability of Cumberland's marine resources by striving to improve water quality in shellfish harvesting areas and promoting access to the shore.

There are also several sustainability goals, such as the creation, protection and enhancement of "social places" where residents can gather; the development of recreational opportunities to reduce the need to drive elsewhere for restaurants, movies and stores; and the consideration of alternative methods, like wind and solar power, to power recreation facilities.

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