Brunswick begins overhaul of zoning ordinance
BRUNSWICK — The town is beginning a year-long, $75,000 project to overhaul its zoning rules.
By the end of next year, Planning Director Anna Breinich said, the hope is to have a revised zoning ordinance passed by the Town Council that will make development easier and more compliant with the town's 2008 Comprehensive Plan.
But town officials hope they won't be alone in rewriting the ordinance that helps guide the character of development in town. The Planning and Development Department is soliciting public input, with several meetings scheduled next week.
Breinich said her department hopes to learn how zoning could be improved from residents and other stakeholders.
"We're asking for input on what's working, what isn't working," she said. "It's a year-long process, but nothing is on the table right now."
The Town Council approved spending $75,000 for the project in July.
The public meetings will be held Dec. 4 at 6:30 p.m and Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. at Brunswick Junior High School, 65 Columbia Ave., and on Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. in the community room of the Maine Technology Institute, 8 Venture Ave.
Other meetings will focus on educating the public on the history of the town's zoning ordinance, and discussions with various stakeholders, including Bowdoin College, Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority and the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust.
In addition, the Brunswick Downtown Association will sponsor its own forum on Dec. 4 at 7:30 a.m. at Curtis Memorial Library to hear feedback from downtown businesses.
"We're obviously very concerned about new zoning regulations and how it can impact our businesses," BDA Executive Director Debora King said, "so we wanted to step up the plate and host in conjunction with the town.
"The last thing we we want is (people saying) 'nobody told me about this,'" she continued, "so we're really encouraging anyone to attend the public meeting."
Breinich said public feedback will be taken into consideration when the Planning Department and Planning Board begin drafting a revised zoning ordinance in January 2014 with the help of Clarion Associates, a planning, land use and real estate consulting firm with seven offices across the U.S.
Then, a public draft of the revised zoning ordinance is expected to be posted on the town's website at www.brunswickme.org by July 2014, followed by another series of public meetings.
Once any changes are made based on public feedback, a near-final draft called the "hearing draft" will be publicized for a final round of public hearings.
Then, when the Planning Board is satisfied with any final changes, it will vote on a recommendation to approve the revised zoning ordinance and send it to the Town Council by November 2014 for final consideration.
Breinich said the long process is designed to ensure there is adequate transparency in making zoning changes that could, in a way, change the future direction of development and growth in the town.
"We want to make this as transparent as possible," she said. "We want people to be able to see everything that's going on."
Breinich said the original impetus for the project came from the town's 2008 Comprehensive Plan, which calls for a major zoning update.
"(The Comprehensive Plan) lays out how future growth and development is managed in the town," she said, adding that it includes "what is protected for natural resources along with where we want to focus development."
In addition, the Planning Director said the existing zoning ordinance has been amended several times over the last 10 or 15 years, with amendments that sometimes conflict with each other or create unintended consequences.
And, she said, there are other places where the zoning ordinance needs to be fine-tuned.
"Before 1997, there were about 15 zoning districts. Now, there are 45," Breinich said. "... It's just gotten to be quite cumbersome."
Planning Board Chairman Charlie Frizzle said he wants to make sure the revised zoning ordinance will make planning and development easier to understand.
"That's my primary concern," Frizzle said.
On the other hand, Councilor-elect Steve Walker, a departing Planning Board member and the town's former Natural Resources Planner, said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the zoning ordinance overhaul.
Walker said he sees the current ordinance as "very thoughtful" and "logically laid out," adding that he's concerned the overhaul's public process could disproportionately favor the "interests of the few."
"Certainly every voice needs to be heard," he said, "but I hope we stay true to the directives in the Comprehensive Plan."