Cumberland council tables proposal to expand growth zone

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CUMBERLAND — With two members absent, the Town Council on Monday tabled a vote on proposed amendments to a growth area in the center of town.

The area, which lies mostly in the Medium Density Residential zone, is one of three in town where growth is being encouraged. The amendment would expand that area to the east and south, to include land farther down Route 9 (Main Street), toward the Village Mixed Use and Highway Commercial zones, including the Small’s Brook Crossing subdivision, the Val Halla Golf & Recreation Center, the Town Forest, and Town Hall.

“There are lands in here that would probably never be developed, but they are shown as potentially developable,” Town Planner Carla Nixon told the council Monday. “A council 20 years from now may decide that they want to do something in those areas.”

The town’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan calls for connectivity between Village Mixed Use and Highway Commercial zones, Nixon said earlier this month.

The Planning Board recommended the expansion Sept. 15, echoing a prior recommendation by the ad hoc Land Use Committee. The Town Council will make the final decision.

Another recommendation to be decided is whether to change other zoning in the proposed growth area from Rural Residential 1, which requires minimum lot sizes of 4 acres, to Rural Residential 2, which calls for a 2-acre minimum. The change would provide incentive for growth, Nixon said.

Steve Moriarty, who chaired the Land Use Committee before work was completed in April, said members did not fully agree about boundaries of the expansion.

“I, for one, articulated the point of view that there’s no point in including Val Halla, Small’s Brook or the Town Forest in a growth area, because we do not in fact plan any further growth there,” he said. “Decision No. 1 is, are these the right boundaries, and then secondly, is the zoning to be changed to facilitate growth, or do we leave it as it is.”

Many of those who spoke at Monday’s public hearing, including Brian Cashin, desired no changes. His Wildflower Way property is in the area proposed for  expansion.

Cashin noted that results from a recent town survey called for no change in the RR1/RR2 zoning, and for the characteristics of Cumberland’s rural residential district to remain undisturbed.

“The recommendation (before the council) is contrary to those survey results, and the survey is the voice of the community,” Cashin said.

Chris Neagle, chairman of the Planning Board, said “if you have a 4-acre lot, you have a 4-acre lot; no one’s going to change anything.” He said he did not think many new houses would be added in an expanded growth area.

“I think you’ve got to step back and say, ‘Where does this town want to aim its growth,'” Neagle added. “It shouldn’t be hard to designate a growth area.”

Bob Vail of Cumberland Center said it was “time for the council to show some backbone,” adding, “there is no justification, any way you want to slice it, to designate a growth area anyplace in this town.”

“The population of the state of Maine is still declining. There is no need for housing in the state of Maine,” Vail said. “I think we need to send a clear message to developers: We’re all done. We don’t need it.”

Richard Thompson, who has owned a 11.5-acre parcel on Main Street for 32 years, said, “We’re already in a growth area, folks. You wouldn’t believe the growth, and the impact of that growth that I’ve seen.”

He said he faces danger crossing Main Street twice a day to get the newspaper and mail, with traffic speeding by.

“We live and operate in a safety hazard,” Thompson said.

Some councilors agreed.

“I’m not sure why this growth center is needed,” Councilor Mike Edes said, noting that someone wanting to develop a property can propose it to the town.

“I don’t see a reason for designating a growth area,” Councilor Bill Stiles agreed, although he added that he would like to see all 4-acre zoning halved to 2 acres.

“In my experience, growth is going to happen where people want it to happen, not where you’re going to force them to do it,” he added.

Councilor Ron Copp, who later moved to postpone a decision, expressed a different point of view.

“You can’t stay stagnant the way that everybody wants,” Copp said. “If you don’t grow your business, you won’t go anywhere, in today’s society. It’s no different in town government.”

He noted how the housing developments on Drowne Road have generated significant extra revenue for the town.

“I don’t necessarily think that we need a growth district zone, but I don’t necessarily think you should be able to tell your neighbor that they can’t subdivide their land either, because you don’t own it,” Copp said.

Copp’s motion to table passed 3-2, with Stiles and Councilor Shirley Storey-King also in favor, and Edes and Councilor Tom Gruber opposed. Councilors George Turner and Peter Bingham were absent.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

The Cumberland Town Council on Monday tabled a decision on the proposed expansion of a growth area in the center of town.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.