Citizens weigh in on future of campgrounds



TREMONT — A public forum organized by a group called Concerned Tremont Residents was held via Zoom last Thursday to discuss possible changes to a land use ordinance (LUO) for campground standards. 

A moratorium that halted all campground development, retroactive to Aug. 2, 2021, was approved by Tremont voters in November and is set to expire Jan. 29. A campground moratorium extension proposed by residents would provide the town another six months to make amendments to the LUO.  

According to state law, in municipalities where the legislative body is the town meeting, the Select Board may extend the moratorium for six months after notice and hearing. A public hearing will be held by the Select Board at 5 p.m. on Jan. 20 to discuss an extension.  

At the public forum, municipal attorney Richard “Dick” Spencer of Portland-based firm Drummond Woodsum asked a series of questions regarding campgrounds in Tremont. The questions were posed to the more than 50 residents in attendance using Zoom’s polling feature and those in attendance could respond on their electronic devices in real time. The answers will provide input for Planning Board and Select Board members to help them decide what should be done in the near term. 

More than half of the people who attended the forum identified themselves as year-round residents who lived in Tremont for more than six years, and almost all of them were taxpayers. Most of Tremont’s seasonal residents said they had lived in town for more than 20 years. The majority involved in the forum were over 50 years of age. 

Of the respondents, 83 percent thought that the town should have a separate definition for “glampgrounds” or recreation lodging that would be more complete than the traditional campground and tent definition. Nearly the same percentage thought the definition of campgrounds should be expanded to include recreational lodging that would cover all forms of transient accommodations that do not have inside cooking facilities. 

Tremont resident Sam Hamill said it was equally important to quantify what the project’s impact would be. “In the performance standards, we would write about the impact on traffic, water supply, waste disposal and community services,” he said. He agreed with others that the definition of light commercial use in the LUO should also be changed. “Yes, we are talking about campgrounds now, but what happens when somebody comes in with the idea for a dance hall or some other use that slips in under our definition of light commercial?” he asked. 

Tremont’s campground standards in the LUO fail to mention light commercial use. 

Though many participants thought similarly about definitions, many of them felt differently about campground acreage requirements. 

Currently, there is no minimum parcel size requirement in the LUO for a campground. Despite all forum participants agreeing that there should be a certain acreage requirement for campgrounds, most felt differently about the minimum acreage amount. Almost half said there should be a minimum parcel size requirement of 20 acres, a quarter wanted a minimum parcel requirement of 10 acres, 18 percent had other suggestions and 11 percent wanted to leave the LUO as is.  

Charles Yeiser of Tremont suggested that the Planning Board should follow metrics that the citizens could agree on in order to consider approval or issuance of a permit. 

The current LUO excludes the land supporting wetland vegetation and land below the normal high water mark when the area that’s allowed per site is calculated, though it doesn’t exclude steep slopes, vernal pools, stream buffers, easements or other limitations that are typically excluded in determining the suitable land for development. Most forum participants felt that any unsuitable areas on the parcel should not be counted in the density requirements for a variety of reasons. 

 

To currently have a campground or “glampground” in Tremont, the ordinance states each campsite should contain a minimum of 5,000 square feet, which equates roughly to an area of 70-by-70 feet or 100-by-50 feet. An acre of land is 43,560 square feet. Under the current LUO definition, one acre could support up to eight sites.  

Tremont’s LUO also requires a 40,0000-square foot area for a residential unit. For a multi-family residential unit, the LUO requires 40,000 square feet for the first unit and 20,000 square feet for each additional unit. Participants in the forum felt that the suitable campsite area should be increased to 15,000, 30,000 or even 40,000 square feet. 

The current LUO does not require a maximum number of units per campground, but it is to be determined by the density limit of 5,000 square feet per site. Most forum participants wanted to either limit the number to 10-25 or had another suggestion that would limit the number. 

Tremont is in the process of updating its comprehensive plan, with a completion date at least a year away. Part of the work would include addressing the forum’s issues about campgrounds. Seventy-two percent of the audience wanted to prohibit campgrounds and “glampgrounds” until the town’s comprehensive plan has gone through this process, and 24 percent wanted the town to adopt interim standards that apply to campgrounds. 

All but one of the forum participants were in favor of extending the campground moratorium. “If we could get enacted an interim ordinance that would last until the comprehensive plan was completed that would defer the development until that time would be good because we are clearly going to need more than another six months to get this ordinance in place,” said Ted Kleinman of Tremont. 

While the moratorium can only be extended once more for 180 days, it was suggested at the forum that the town could then adopt an interim set of standards in the LUO for campgrounds before the Comprehensive Planning Committee finishes the town’s comprehensive plan. 

Resident Cynthia Lawson said the current LUO standards are not adequate to protect the town’s residents from future development. “I think there’s a lot of people that are fearful of what we are advocating for is no business at all in Tremont. That is not true. Tremont needs businesses that bring something to the community,” she said. “Now there is a unique opportunity to find what kind and how much development is desired for the future as there currently are no clear standards for campgrounds.” 

Ninah Gile

Ninah Gile

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Ninah Gile, an MDI native, covers the town of Bar Harbor. She is glad to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor's degree in San Diego from the University of California.

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