New business zone proposed for Mitchell Field

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HARPSWELL — A new zoning district has been proposed to control development on the town-owned Mitchell Field property.

A committee has been working to implement a master plan proposed for Mitchell Field and made the recommendation to establish a zoning district for 9 acres of the more than 119-acre property.

Town Planner Carol Tukey said the new district will be called Mitchell Field Marine Business District and will allow low-intensity business use on part of the property near the shoreline.

Potential qualifying businesses include boat building, fishing-related business or lobster or crab processing, she said.

“Things that need a lot of cooling water, thousands of gallons,” Tukey said. “It has to be related to marine use.”

Mitchell Field was given to the town by the Navy and was formerly used as a fuel depot. Environmental clean up was completed before the property was transferred to the town, but Tukey said the Department of Environmental Protection continues to monitor test wells on the property. A master plan for the property was approved at town meeting in 2007, Tukey said. Since then, a committee has worked to implement the master plan suggestions.

The committee has focused on three areas including updating zoning, changing the site plan review process and changing the town’s Comprehensive Plan to include the proposed Mitchell Field master plan.

 The new proposed district will require a change in zoning because the property is currently zoned as shoreland residential. Tukey said the zone must be changed to allow business if the parcel is to be developed.

There are no other marine business districts within the shoreland or other zoning areas in Harpswell, she said. Other zones in shoreland zoning include residential, resource protection, business and commercial fishing. Zones outside the shoreland zone include a number of others, including a tower district to include the only cell phone tower in Harpswell.

Performance standards

Another suggested change before the marine business district is created is to update the site plan review process regarding lighting, noise and odor standards as well as visual impact considerations, Tukey said.

“The committee wanted more performance standards,” she said.

Currently, there are no lighting, noise or odor standards in any zone, Tukey said.

There are two existing brick buildings and a metal frame building on the parcel suggested for marine use. Additional development will be limited by percentage rather than square footage, she said. The percentages vary based on the 250-foot shoreland protection zone. New construction will have to meet visual standards both from land and the ocean, according to documents prepared by the committee.

Tukey said one business would be allowed on the parcel under the proposed plan.

“The committee was trying to go for maximum flexibility,” she said.

A public hearing last week drew residents who expressed concerns about the changes, focusing on the standards being too restrictive for business development.

Consultant Mark Eyerman of Planning Decisions of South Portland has been working with the committee and introduced the changes during the public hearing. He covered consistency changes in the land use ordinance as well as the site plan review process. He said previous public meetings have revealed concerns of residents.

“A concern was how this development will fit in with Mitchell Field,” Eyerman said, adding that people want to know how the development will blend with the recreational use of the lower part of the property.

He said the amendments to the Comprehensive Plan create the new district within the shoreland zone and address adding the four additional performance standards for development within the Mitchell Field district.

Selectman Mark Wallace shared concerns with a number of residents and asked if the district would be workable for businesses.

“It’s too restrictive, as far as I am concerned, for a business,” Wallace said.

Eyerman said any business that can meet the performance standards will be allowed within the district, adding noisy businesses “would struggle.” He said a number of businesses looked at as potential development businesses all met the standards suggested by the committee.

“It was clear we needed to get some buy-in from developers, engineers and business people,” Tukey said Wednesday, adding she plans to contact a handful of business people to solicit opinions about the proposed restrictions.

In the past, two businesses have expressed interest locating on the parcel, including a liquid-natural gas facility and a boat builder. Without the committee in place, the businesses were forced to address multiple municipal officials and departments as well as the public. Tukey said changes suggested by the committee should make development easier on interested businesses by consolidating the process.

There have already been two public forums about the Mitchell Field master plan to gather input. Tukey said a new draft of proposed changes should be complete by Jan. 1, 2011, after which there will be another public hearing before Town Meeting.

Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or sgrinnell@theforecaster.net

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