While a tiny bit is better than nothing (density bonus, LEEDS compliance), those pathetic crumbs are inadequate chicken feed compared to the massive zoning reform Bath desperately needs if it hopes to meet challenges of the 21st century as well as its own stated goals (spelled out in the Comprehensive Plan of 2009). The Brookings study fingered radical zoning reform as a key action to protect Maine’s quality of place, a requirement bolstered by state policy and by urban planning experts everywhere.
So what’s happening in Bath? Sadly, its shrunken downtown is filled with low-rent antique stores, strip-mall parking lots and a “wasteland waterfront” being privatized for gated community residents. That’s “just fine, thank you” according to those who see Bath as their quaint little retirement village retreat.
But Bath was founded to be an urban place, a city of opportunity for young entrepreneurs and investors alike, not a shrinking village dedicated to no-growth retiree quietude or suburban recession unemployment.
Developer Catherine Davis, herself a long-time New Urbanist advocate, first saw Bath as a “junior Portland.” She envisioned a publicly accessible, revitalized waterfront-downtown that would authenticate Bath’s originally vibrant urban heritage, at one time more world-famous than Portland itself.
That vision rejects 1950s automobile-connected “zones” typical of an American suburbia. Instead it restores a classically traditional urban core that weaves retail, restaurant, hotel, apartment, office, civic and light-industry uses harmoniously together within attached structures and infill parcels according to radically revised land use rules. America’s future “small city innovation economy” demands no less.