Ordinance for design review rules debated

BAR HARBOR — A new debate over revisions to the town’s Land Use Ordinance (LUO) opened Tuesday as councilors considered a proposal from the town’s Design Review Board (DRB) to move design review standards from the LUO into a separate ordinance.

“We have in the past proposed minor changes to the ordinance,” the members of the DRB wrote in a letter to the council last month. “These changes have often been ‘put on hold’ so a larger number of changes to the ordinance could be combined and put to a single vote. This process has delayed changes that would have enhanced the beauty of the town and has caused hardship for some businesses. We feel changes to a smaller ordinance would move to a vote more rapidly, avoiding the politics of the process of LUO revision.”

DRB Chairwoman Barbara Sassman said citizens and business owners are often confused when they consult the ordinance. Relevant rules are scattered across several different articles. “We’d really like to get it all in one place. It’s a mess for us to find stuff. We want to make it intelligible to people who are trying to use it. When they’re trying to come before the DRB and say, ‘This is what we want to do.’”

Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain explained that if Article 13 of the ordinance dealing with design review were moved to a separate ordinance, much of the information would remain in the LUO as well.

“A lot of the same standards for signs, landscaping, etc. apply everywhere,” she said. “So even if you take design review board out and have it somewhere else, you still have to have sign standards and those things in the ordinance. So it’s gonna be in two places, to some extent.”

Councilors were concerned about whether a new, separate ordinance could be too easily changed, requiring only a vote of the Town Council. Sassman said she had assumed that changes would be subject to town meeting vote just as LUO changes are.

Town Planner Robert Osborne is set to report back to the council on this question.

“Everything that’s in this ordinance has been voted by the people,” Councilor David Bowden said. “I’m not sure I want to take it out and leave that up to just council and the citizens don’t have a say. They have a say, but it’s not voted on.”

Councilor Gary Friedmann suggested making the requested changes while keeping the design review article inside the LUO. “Town meeting is either gonna say yes or no, that it’s a good idea to consolidate it. By keeping it in LUO, it requires town meeting action to make any changes to design review ordinance in the future.”

The council approved a version of Friedmann’s proposal by a 5-1 vote. They agreed to endorse the recommendation of the DRB to create a design review section in the land use ordinance and return with recommendations from the town planner.

Bowden was the dissenting vote. “I’m not sure I want to endorse it until I know what’s the best route to take,” he said.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.