Brunswick gets first look at zoning overhaul
BRUNSWICK — An overhaul of the town's zoning ordinance is being reviewed by stakeholders from town boards and committees before heading to several rounds of public forums starting next month.
The new ordinance was unveiled in a presentation to the public two weeks ago.
The document is a comprehensive rewrite of the town's zoning rules, and Planning Department staff expect to receive lots of public feedback before turning a final draft over to the Planning Board in October.
The ordinance is the product of almost year of work by a Planning Board subcommittee with help from consultants from Clarion Associates, a national land-use planning firm.
It proposes major changes to the zoning ordinance adopted in 1997.
The current document is outdated, cumbersome and overly complex, Director of Planning and Development Anna Breinich said.
For example, the present document doesn't align with the Comprehensive Plan passed by the town in 2008, uses outdated terminology, and is overly complex, she said.
Moreover, it has been amended over the past 17 years, creating a patchwork of regulations even staff have a hard time navigating, Breinich added.
The new ordinance includes significant changes, from the organization of the document itself to specific building dimensions within the town's districts.
Many of the changes in the new document were drawn from input and suggestions provided by the public in a series of forums late last year, Breinich said.
One of the most significant changes is the elimination of more than a third of the town's development districts, reducing the overall number from 50 to 31, including 10 overlay districts that have additional standards for sensitive areas like aquifers.
The reduction was achieved by consolidating adjoining small districts that had similar development standards into several larger residential, mixed-use, and special-purpose districts.
That consolidation can help reduce complications in standards or use that often arise in the parts of districts bordering one another.
"The more you have, the harder it is to manage the changes from one district to another," Breinich said. "By having larger districts, you can provide a better buffer area."
The structure of the ordinance itself also received a complete overhaul, shortening the document from seven chapters to five, combining allowed land-use tables for each of the town's nine planning areas into one list each for the growth and rural area zones, and combing rules for procedure and administration into a single chapter.
The ordinance also includes specific changes that affect individual neighborhoods, such as an expanded village review zone in downtown and smaller lot sizes to allow for more density in the town's growth areas, Breinich said.
None of the changes are final. Staff will rely on public input to judge whether the draft appropriately fits the real-world situation, Breinich said.
"We're basically testing what's in here," Breinich said. "We really need to take a very hard look at it to make sure it works."
The Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee intends to hold a series of public forums beginning next month to collect further input and comment on the draft ordinance.
"We really want people to take a look at the document and start looking at not only where they live, but also where they travel through and what they want to see – any changes, anything they want to stay the same," Breinich said.
Two large forums are scheduled on Sept. 24 at Brunswick Junior High School and Oct. 1 in the Southern Maine Community College Auditorium at Brunswick Landing.
Other meetings tailored for specific neighborhoods are being scheduled, Breinich said.
The Planning Department hopes to have collected all public input by mid-October and to have a draft ready for adoption by the Town Council in December.
Copies of the proposed ordinance and more information are provided at the Planning Department and on the ZORC website.