Zoning rewrite takes heat from Brunswick councilors

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BRUNSWICK — A plan to extend the town’s zoning overhaul by adding another draft ordinance came under fire Monday, when town councilors questioned the cost of a revised document and criticized how the process has been handled.

Interim Town Manager John Eldridge plans to present councilors with a “road map” of how the zoning rewrite will go forward, to give them a better idea of the process. 

The Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee plans to draft an interim version of the ordinance that incorporates the public comments it has received so far.  

So far, the committee has received the equivalent of 48 pages of written comments and questions about the ordinance, as well as hours of verbal input gathered at a series of public meetings held in September, Town Planner Anna Breinich told the Town Council.

“We have a lot to get through, and that’s why we are doing it on a chapter-by-chapter basis,” she said.

Committee members then plan to turn the document over to the public for more scrutiny before developing a final draft to present to the Planning Board and Town Council. 

But adding another draft requires the committee to extend its contract with consultants Clarion Associates by another six months, at a cost of $10,000.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Eldridge said the money is earmarked to develop new design guidelines for Brunswick’s Village Review Zone, which are unlikely to be completed by the end of the fiscal year.

According to Breinich, Clarion still has to deliver a final draft ordinance and two on-site presentations under its original $75,000 contract. The extension would only cover the interim draft and an additional presentation. 

While council approval isn’t necessary to transfer the funds, Eldridge said “strong objection” from councilors to using the money will be taken into account.

On Monday, he told councilors the interim draft is a “good-faith effort” that would give the committee time to respond to people’s complaints.

“There’s a recognition clearly, that this process needs more time,” Eldridge said.

“I think we’re at a point where we’ve heard a lot of criticism and we’re trying to respond to that criticism,” he added. “I just don’t know how we do that at this point without trying to put some kind of interim document out there.”

Several councilors, however, expressed discomfort with the committee’s plan.

Councilor Jane Millett, who represents the downtown area and has attended many of the committee’s public meetings, said the panel has not adequately engaged the public.

“I don’t think it’s criticism as much as it is frustration,” Millett said. “What is lacking in this process is personal give and take, questions and answers.”

Before beginning work on an interim draft, the committee needs to sit down with small neighborhood groups and respond to the questions they have about the document, Millett said.

Councilor John Perreault also stated that there has not been enough public education about the overhaul, and said he will not support the document unless the major changes it proposes are highlighted.

“We are the ones who are suggesting to rewrite the ordinance, not the citizens, I believe it is our duty, as a town, to educate the citizens as to what the changes are, not just say here’s a 240-page book, read through it and give me your comments,’” he said.

Committee members have been working for more than a year on the draft document, which is being guided by Brunswick’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan. They and planning office staff say the current ordinance is out of date and overly complicated.

More than a dozen public input sessions have been held by committee since last year, including a series held last winter that asked residents for suggestions on the ordinance.

At a series of public input sessions in September, many residents identified perceived problems with the proposed document, from minor concerns with building standards to fury that a new ordinance would infringe on their property rights.

Still, several councilors noted that many in the public were unaware of the rewrite or unclear about what it meant.

Councilor Steve Walker said he is hesitant to “throw more money” at the rewrite and noted that members of the public he has spoken with are “lost in this process.”

“I don’t feel another $10,000 investment is a wise move,” Walker said.

Although she said she’d support an interim draft, Councilor Sarah Brayman also expressed concern that not enough residents have been involved.

“As much as the public is engaged right now, still there’s a lot of people who don’t even know about it,” she said.

“The interim draft will help, but it’s not the end all,” Brayman added. “This process is going to keep going, it is going to be frustrating and long, and hopefully we can come out with something we can pass.”

Chairman Benet Pols was one of the only councilors who voiced support for the interim draft.

“Lets treat it as an attempt to rectify what has been put forward publicly as a problem, rather than just another problem,” Pols said.

He said the “road map” proposed by Eldridge could help clear up the process.

“It certainly would make for a more coherent discussion,” Pols said.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.