HARPSWELL — Residents and public officials raised concerns Wednesday at the Planning Board’s first public hearing on proposed changes to the town’s Shoreland Zoning ordinance.
Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said the town is concerned with the Shoreland Zoning Task Force’s proposal to change Mitchell Field to a Resource Protection zone, specifically the road that runs through it and into the marine business district.
“I’m concerned it may be premature to put that property in Resource Protection and that will create a constraint on that road conceivably,” Eiane said. “I’d really like to ask the Planning Board to take a look at that, to understand what putting that into a Resource Protection zone will do as far as constraining the town’s ability to have some commercial activity in the marine business district and conceivably on the pier some day.”
Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Elinor Multer agreed.
“The whole future of Mitchell Field is very much undetermined at this point,” Multer said. “… I would much prefer that you do not put a Resource Protection zone in the proposed area. Nothing very drastic is going to happen while you’re not looking, and I would prefer that some options be left open.”
Debora Levensailor, secretary of the Planning Board, said she wouldn’t vote for the proposed changes, which will be presented in a referendum at the March 9 Town Meeting, if Mitchell Field is changed to a Resource Protection zone.
Mary Ann Nahf, the Shoreland Zoning Task Force chairwoman, reminded the public why the panel is proposing to change the Mitchell Field designation.
“There’s a very steep bluff on a portion of the property,” Nahf said, “… that goes down to the water, so the idea behind Resource Protection was to protect the area that was there from development so it wouldn’t slump into water at another time.”
Jim Clemons, a commercial fishermen, asked why some of the zones are being changed from Commercial Fishing to Shoreland Residential.
“My concerns are taking any area at all out of Commercial fishing in a commercial fishing town is detrimental to the industry for future use or even expansion,” Clemons said.
Nahf explained that because the town is trying to make its Shoreland Zoning ordinance compliant with state law, the group used five state criteria to determine if certain zones qualify for Commercial Fishing.
The task force is proposing to change the area near Morse Lobster on Morse Road from Commercial Fishing to Shoreland Residential, while three other areas will switch from Shoreland Residential to Commercial Fishing.
“I think it bears some consideration that we did remove commercial fishing property from the inventory,” task force member Bruce Davis said. “While we did replace them, it wasn’t an even swap.”
Eiane said while homeowners can still run a marine business in a Shoreland Residential zone, it does have some limitations.
“I think the town should be really careful about having any property removed from Commercial Fishing (zones),” Eiane said. “To say that commercial fishing can be a home occupation doesn’t give it the same kind of latitude as if it stays in (a) Commercial Fishing (zone) because home occupation, the definition, has some limitations to it, about how many people can work there, that they have to be affiliated with the homeowner.”
Nahf said the criteria includes if the area is sheltered from prevailing winds and waves, the slope of land within 250 feet, the depth of water within 150 feet of the shoreline, the availability of utilities and transportation facilities and compatibility with surrounding uses.
She said the task force will consider public feedback and revisit some of the proposed changes before their next meeting at the beginning of January. Another public hearing will be held on Jan. 30, 2013, when the final draft of the ordinance amendments will be presented.