Hampden council braces for more public debate on comprehensive plan

Posted March 04, 2011, at 7:58 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — Town councilors, aware that the public outcry over the recently updated comprehensive plan has not diminished, have moved Monday’s council meeting to a larger venue.

Chairman Matt Arnett said the regular council meeting, during which councilors will consider a repeal of the 2010 comprehensive plan, will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, March 7, in the town’s community room instead of council chambers.

Town officials are expected to wire the community for audio and video so the meeting can be broadcast on local public access television.

“On behalf of the council, I want to apologize that we weren’t adequately prepared for such a heavy turnout on Tuesday,” Arnett said, referring to a heated public meeting that brought an estimated 250 angry residents before the council. That meeting started in council chambers but moved to the community room to accommodate the audience.

Weeks of simmering tension over the comprehensive plan update boiled over at Tuesday’s meeting into a series of personal attacks on council members and municipal staff.

Many residents were concerned that elements of the plan, which is not a binding document, would infringe on their individual property rights. Councilors maintained that the document is simply an inventory of the town’s land resources and a guide to create new zoning ordinances or amend existing ones.

Some residents called for a full repeal of the plan on Tuesday, and councilors agreed to add an agenda item for Monday’s meeting to address that request.

Arnett said he’s not sure whether there is enough council support for a repeal, but he said amending the plan could be an option.

“Ultimately, I think there will need to be a public referendum on this,” the council chairman said.

If the council repeals the 2010 update, it would be operating without a comprehensive plan, according to town attorney Thomas Russell. Some residents said they would be perfectly happy without a comprehensive plan or zoning ordinances, for that matter, but councilors argued that towns such as Hampden that continue to grow need to plan ahead.

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