Demolition process changes for Brunswick historic district

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BRUNSWICK — When a developer wants to demolish a building in the downtown historic district, the Village Review Board will no longer have the final say.

With an 8-1 vote Monday night, the Town Council has temporarily shifted that role to the Planning Board. 

The Village Review Board will now play an advisory role for decisions about demolitions in the town’s village review zone, which exists to help preserve and maintain the area’s historic features.

Meanwhile, the Planning and Development Department will draft a more streamlined ordinance for a process many town officials believe is imperfect and frustrating.

“The reason we brought this forward is there had been many issues with demolitions in the past year, and the Village Review Board was uncomfortable with the job they had to do,” said Council Chairwoman Joanne King, who co-sponsored the proposal with Vice Chairman Ben Tucker. “They are more into preservation than demolition.”

If a new ordinance isn’t passed by June 1, 2013, the Planning Board’s authority will shift back to the Village Review Board.

Councilor Benet Pols, the only councilor who opposed the interim change, said it will add an “unnecessary step” to an already unwieldy process.

“This interim process will be longer because the Village Review Board will still go through an advisory process, then it will have to go to the Planning Board,” Pols said Tuesday morning. “It just seems unnecessary. It didn’t eliminate a step, it added one.”

Planning and Development Director Anna Breinich said while that may be true, the Planning Board meets two more times a month than the Village Review Board’s once-a-month schedule.

Under the interim change, a demolition application must be filed with the Planning Department at least 40 days before the Planning Board reviews it. Within three days the planning director will certify that the application is complete; if it is, it will be forwarded to the Village Review Board.

At its next meeting, the Village Review Board will make its recommendation to the Planning Board, which will either grant or deny the demolition permit.

The Planning Board can also enact a 90-day moratorium on the application to allow the applicant and board to look at alternatives. At the end of the moratorium, the Planning Board must grant or deny the application.

Charles Wiercinski, a local engineer, was the only member of the public to speak during the discussion. He said he experienced the Village Review Board’s process first-hand with the demolition of an old church rectory earlier this year.

“I think the projects that go before the Planning Board have a more comprehensive review,” he said. “They’re focused more on the entire ordinance than just that one section, and and I think the idea of having the Planning Board having the authority makes more sense.”

In other business, the Town Council voted unanimously to hold a public hearing Jan. 22, 2013, on proposed changes to downtown parking.

The changes include changing the time limit for two spaces per block from two hours to 30 minutes, enforcing a no “space hopping” rule within each block, and increasing fines for parking in a prohibited space or exceeding the allotted time limit.

Councilor Margo Knight said the proposal is the result of continuing work by the Master Plan Implementation Committee, public officials and Maine Street merchants, who were concerned about the declining number of downtown parking spaces.

Red flags were raised for business owners earlier this fall when they learned two raised crosswalks, planned for construction on Maine Street, would require the removal of seven parking spaces.

“Parking is always an issue,” Alisa Coffin, owner of The Great Impasta, said in October. “There are no funds available for a parking garage. I understand that, but we cannot continue to lose parking spaces.”

As a result of concerns, MPIC formed a subcomittee with Knight, Police Department Capt. Mark Waltz, Brunswick Downtown Association Executive Director Debora King and some business owners to address downtown parking, where as many as 40 spaces were lost earlier this year.

The result is a series of proposed changes that will be discussed next month, and may be voted on as early as February.

“This is the way I wish we could work all the time, getting direct feedback from the stakeholders,” Knight said.

In the meantime, she said the subcommittee was able to discover areas that opened more parking spaces downtown.

“We’ve netted many, many more than the seven parking spaces that we would lose with installing the raised crosswalks,” Knight said, “and our … committee is confident these low-cost, immediate measures will address the concerns from the business owners that there will be parking available to make up for that reduction in parking when we install the raised crosswalks.”

Knight said the raised crosswalks, which received funding from the council earlier this year, will be addressed again after the parking issue is considered.

“If this public hearing is successful, I think we take it back out to the business owners and say ‘we’ve got your spaces back, it’s been passed and now let’s talk about where we can install the raised crosswalks,'” she said.

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