May 25, 2018
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Hampden tables action on comprehensive plan despite resident frustration

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

HAMPDEN, Maine — The crowd of residents was at least 50 percent smaller than a week ago but many left just as frustrated Monday after town councilors tabled a motion to repeal a controversial comprehensive plan.

After more than three hours of debate and public comment, councilors concluded that they needed more time and thought before they could undo a plan that took nearly three years to create.

“This is what they do; they wear you down,” one irate resident said as he left the municipal building. “They’ll drag their heels until people stop paying attention and then they’ll act.”

While the rhetoric was toned down considerably from a public forum held last Tuesday, this week’s council meeting still revealed residents’ contempt. Unlike last week, though, a handful of residents spoke in support of the council’s diligence in creating an updated comprehensive plan.

Kathryn King said that in creating and passing the plan, councilors did what they were elected to do.

“We gave them no direction on this … It’s not their fault,” King said. “The sense that they betrayed us [is false] … It does nothing but divide us.”

Still, critics outweighed supporters by a sizable margin Monday.

“I think it’s clear that the people are saying no to your plan,” resident Scott Carter said. “I think you need to listen to them.”

Added Peter Brown: “The entire plan is so liberal it’s upsetting.”

Councilors in October 2010 passed the updated comprehensive plan, a nearly 300-page document detailing the town’s assets and future zoning possibilities. Over the last several weeks, as residents have examined the plan, many have seen what they believe are dangerous suggestions that could weaken their personal property rights.

That frustration came to head last week when 250 residents turned out at the town office angry and looking for answers.

Some townspeople, such as Gayle Zydlewski, expressed embarrassment Monday at the way the town carried itself last week and they called for a more civil tone.

“I saw it differently,” Lisa Carter said. “I was proud of the people. We trusted this council, and our trust was abused.”

The idea to repeal the plan came at the request of resident Rich Armstrong at the close of last week’s meeting. Councilor Kristen Hornbrook made the motion to repeal. Andre Cushing seconded her motion for discussion purposes, but that was as far it went.

Councilor Thomas Brann moved to table Hornbrook’s motion because the council technically did not provide ample time to schedule a public hearing. That mattered little to many in the audience, some of whom seemed to be under the impression that the residents in attendance could vote themselves to repeal the plan.

Shortly before Monday’s vote, it was Brann who tried to explain the process to an unsympathetic audience.

The plan that was passed last fall is a working document that the council will use to create future land use ordinances or amend existing ones. The document itself does not create any restrictions or force conservation.

Although many residents still want a full repeal, councilors seemed to be leaning toward addressing some provisions of the 2010 plan rather than starting from scratch. As Councilor Janet Hughes pointed out, the comprehensive plan contains more than 150 implementation strategies, but residents are upset by fewer than 10 of those ideas.

As the town considers implementation of elements of that plan, councilors agreed that the public should be extended every opportunity to offer thoughts and suggestions.

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