By Donna Mae Karlson
Fish, meat and poultry processing were once an important part of Maine’s economy and are now a proud part of our cultural heritage.
In my opinion, it seems like the supporters of the proposed Land Use Ordinance repeal and replace wish to revive the fish processing times past in the Downtown Village I, II and Transitional Districts. And this will be allowed with only a permit from the Code Enforcement Officer (CEO), which means no public notice, no hearings and no site plan review by the planning board.
Personally, I do not object to any of the good citizens of downtown Bar Harbor having an “establishment in which food or beverages are processed or otherwise prepared for eventual human consumption.” However, I object to the LUO revisers sticking this substantive change into the proposed LUO changes in a way in which even the most vigilant voter, scrutinizing the impacts of measure, would not likely find it.
Yet for years, the costly consulting lawyer and planning department and town officials have been saying that their changes are merely “reorganizing,” “reformatting,” “rewriting” and lately “re-codifying” with no hidden changes.
This simply is not so.
In the recent Planning Department “Frequently Asked Questions” brochure about the LUO repeal and replacement, one question posed is “What Changes Were Made to My District?”
Their answer? “The Planning Board and staff were careful to limit changes so that no uses were prohibited or allowed in districts where they were not already allowed or prohibited uses …. The changes incorporated into the new ordinance should not otherwise impact current uses or change allowed or prohibited uses.”
In addition to the probable illegality of ignoring the requirements of public notice and hearing for a town vote that would allow the substantive change of fish, meat and poultry processing establishments in these downtown districts, it is simply unfair and undemocratic to misinform the voters.
Yes, some residents and business people might welcome the opportunity to have slaughterhouses and fish processing establishments.
Yet others might be concerned by the smells, truck deliveries and reduced property values if they live next door, particularly in the densely built downtown districts.
Regardless of one’s viewpoint, the important thing is to make these changes fairly, openly and lawfully. Let’s not sneak them in the back door but through the front door of a complete public notice followed by a public hearing before the town votes.
So how did I, an average person, discover these hidden changes? First, I obtained a complete copy of our current LUO and a complete copy of the “official” highlighted and marked up copy of the LUO repeal-and-replace draft. Second, I read the definition of each activity/use contained in Article XII, “Construction and Definitions.”
Please note that this change is only obliquely noted in the definition for food processing establishment.
By the way, if this LUO repeal-and-replace passes, one also will be allowed to have big seafood markets with just a building permit from the CEO rather than site plan review in the Shoreland Development I District (the lower end of West Street and town wharf area). Here, one has to look at the current Appendix C Table and its key and compare it to the proposed LUO language. This substantive change is not highlighted or marked up in any way. Sticking big seafood markets into the LUO repeal-and-replace this way is a hidden change that is probably illegal and definitely unfair to Bar Harbor citizens.
For years now, town staff and officials have been trying to foist an unwieldy and massive 500-page LUO repeal-and-replace that has been improperly noticed to the public. Twice, citizens have caught these unnoticed substantive changes, and twice the town has had to pull the LUO repeal-and-replace from the town warrant. These legal failures have cost the taxpayers dearly.
The sensible approach to LUO changes is the one the town originally used: simply change the LUO article by article under the direction of a full-time professional town planner, the planning board and through neighborhood public meetings and hearings. I would suggest adding a temporarily appointed group of citizens with appropriate skills and background to help out with this process.
Finally, I strongly recommend voting “No” on this “too big to review” 500-page LUO behemoth so that we can restore common sense and competence to our LUO revision process.
Donna Mae Karlson is a resident of Bar Harbor.