Shoreland zoning edits eyed

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The town is set to hire a consultant to correct changes in the town’s Land Use Ordinance the state asked for five years ago. Selectmen approved the funding July 23.

Town Manager Justin VanDongen told the Islander that when he asked state officials to approve two changes to the town’s LUO approved by voters at this year’s town meeting, they refused.

“They won’t approve our new one until we correct what they told us to correct last time,” he said.

In a letter from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection dated Jan. 17, 2014 regarding a conditional approval of the LUO, there are 17 “significant deficiencies” listed.

That was a follow up-to a letter sent to the town earlier in January 2014 in response a request for approval of the LUO, as amended by the town in June 2010, Nov. 2010 and Nov. 2013.

VanDongen also said there had been changes to the LUO voted on by the town in 2017 and 2018 that had not been submitted to the state.

“I don’t know why it wasn’t followed through on,” he said. “I wasn’t here.”

A consultant could help “make sure the work is done in time for town vote in November or the next annual town meeting,” VanDongen told selectmen. And, “to make sure our ordinance is legally clean so there aren’t gaps in language and gaps in definition.”

“I don’t think this is a huge chore for somebody who knows what they’re doing and has worked with this type of ordinance stuff in the past,” Planning Board member Ben ‘Lee’ Worcester told selectmen. “It’s my understanding that the overwhelming portion of this is changes that they’re requiring in the shoreland zone. My experience has been we don’t have much choice because if we don’t do it they’re going to impose (state requirements) anyway.

“Southwest Harbor’s always treasured the fact that it’s uniquely zoned,” he added.

There has been no deadline set by which the changes need to be made.

Several selectmen expressed concern about the volume of changes and how to make that process as transparent as possible for voters.

“The proper way to enact an ordinance [amendment] in the state of Maine is a single question stating, shall this ordinance be enacted” VanDongen told selectmen. Each change or set of changes will have a separate public hearing, he said.

“In some ways our ordinance is more restrictive than the [state’s] shoreland ordinance,” VanDongen said, “which I found surprising.”

“It would be nice to retain as much local control as possible,” Select Board Chair Lydia Goetze said at the meeting. “The town is in the unusual position of being the only town in the state now that has mixed used zoning … It’s in our best interest to try to cooperate with the state and get the minimum the state will require so they don’t impose the maximum.”

Selectmen approved moving $10,000 into the town-wide planning reserve, a new account set up to fund things like a comprehensive plan and planning work for the Manset Town Dock. At least $7,500 of that would be designated for this zoning review project.

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.