North Yarmouth OKs 1st contract zone for housing development

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NORTH YARMOUTH — By a show of hands at a special Town Meeting Aug. 4, residents voted 80-49 in favor of a contract zoning agreement for a proposed housing project on Walnut Hill Road.

While many people spoke in support of developer Jim Guidi’s project, others said they were concerned because the proposed lots are significantly smaller than what is allowed in that part of town. Opponents also said the agreement lacks a significant public benefit in return for the contract zone.

Guidi plans to build the seven-lot Stone Post housing subdivision across the street from Stone’s Cafe & Bakery. The lots would range in size from about 15,000 to nearly 32,000 square feet, according to Code Enforcement Officer Ryan Keith.

Because the minimum lot size in the Village Center/Groundwater Protection overlay district is 1 acre (43,560 square feet), and all but one of the lots would be about half that size, he needs a contract zone to develop the project.

Guidi already has an agreement in place to purchase the 4-acre property, which is owned by the estate of Donald Smith.

The Planning Board in June recommended that selectmen reject the contract zone application, calling for the single lots to be at least 20,000 square feet, except for the common lot of approximately 15,000 square foot that would be shared by the subdivision and house a community septic system.

The panel also recommended that an additional public benefit be required besides creating of more density in the center of town: open space or affordable housing, for example.

But the Board of Selectmen on July 5 approved the application, ruling that a public benefit requirement is up to selectmen and is not a requirement.

North Yarmouth’s land use ordinance states that when considering “a request for a change in zoning classification for a particular property or group of properties under this section, the Board of Selectmen may impose certain conditions and restrictions on the use of the property where it finds that such conditions and restrictions are necessary to protect the public health, safety, and general welfare and when the Board of Selectmen seek to advance desired land use objectives consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, and where such uses provide a public purpose or benefit.”

Since the Town Charter mandates that contract zones be approved by voters, the final decision was made at the special Town Meeting.

Guidi, the first person to come before the town for a contract zone agreement, noted that the development would be in the Village Center, where the town’s Comprehensive Plan has called for growth, and is therefore consistent with that plan.

All the homes – including his own – would be built with septic pre-treatment tanks and use public water, Guidi said.

“I want affordable housing,” he said. “If anybody in this room can tell me how I can develop a piece of property and make it affordable without increasing density, I’m all ears.”

Responding to concerns about smaller lot sizes, he noted that many residents, Planning Board members included, had not walked the site with him. He also pointed out that Woodside Drive, which he called one of the “more popular streets” in Cumberland, has lots the same size or smaller than what he is proposing.

In its recommendation against the zone, Planning Board Chairwoman Katryn Gabrielson said, the board asked selectmen “to consider negotiating some kind of a public benefit with the developer,” such as trails through the property, public open space, or aesthetic improvements along the road.

The Planning Board had also hoped that the lot sizes would be reconsidered, particularly because of the project’s location in the town’s groundwater protection overlay district, Gabrielson said.

Christen Graham, of Blue Moon Drive, noted that regardless of the small lots that exist in town, “I’m still adhering to the … existing law of the 2004 (Comprehensive) Plan. I think that asking for double the allowance in a cluster is one thing, and this is even asking for more than double the allowance.”

If nearby towns allow it, she said, “live there, instead of here, in North Yarmouth. … This is an unreasonable use of the parcel. The development is great; it should be on a different parcel somewhere else.”

Graham said he was also concerned about the precedent that approving the contract zone could set.

“‘Contract’ means that the town can enter into a contract with a developer,” said Diane Morrison of Brown Dog Drive. “They can negotiate, and there was no negotiation here, and that’s what disturbs me the most. We could have negotiated with Jim to do certain things, and none of that happened.”

But Mark Verrill, of Walnut Hill Road, praised the project, adding that it means “a hell of a lot” to him that Guidi plans to live there.

“I don’t really like half-acre lots, but I understand, in living here, that’s the only way the center of town is really going to grow and prosper,” he said.

Verrill used the Purple House eatery at the corner of U.S. Route 9 and Route 115 as one example of a successful half-acre lot, and cautioned against turning away potential developers.

Selectman Alex Carr said granting the contract zone request would not set a precedent, noting that “every contract zone is a contract zone unto itself.”

He noted, though, that the town has been “derelict in its duty” to update its 2004 Comprehensive Plan, and to also update the ordinances to reflect current technology.

“This advanced wastewater treatment plant will protect the aquifer, and it gives us the opportunity to reduce lot size,” Carr said.

Former Selectman Jim Moulton said Guidi “jumped through every hoop, and every requirement” put to him by the town, adding that if the town does not want to have a contract zoning option, “we ought to vote it out, or first of all change the process.”

With the contract zone approved, Gabrielson said the Planning Board would discuss the project again later this month.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

North Yarmouth’s first contract zone will allow developer Jim Guidi to proceed with plans for a new housing project on Walnut Hill Road.

The seven-lot Stone Post housing subdivision in North Yarmouth would have lots ranging from about 15,000 square feet to nearly 32,000 square feet.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.