SANGERVILLE, Maine — Only 59 percent of Maine communities have updated their shoreland zoning ordinances as required by law and only 41 percent have updated their maps to reflect the changes, despite a July 1, 2009, deadline, according to a Department of Environmental Protection official.
Enacted by the Legislature in 1972, the Shoreland Zoning Act, which has since been amended, requires communities to establish land use controls for all land areas within 250 feet of ponds and nonforested freshwater wetlands that are 10 acres or larger; rivers with watersheds of at least 25 square miles in drainage area; coastal wetlands and tidal waters; and all land areas within 75 feet of certain streams. To aid towns in developing those land use controls, the state drafted model guidelines containing the standards to be included.
Sangerville has bucked some of those guidelines and is one of the communities in noncompliance. At last year’s town meeting, residents rejected the proposed new ‘’do it or else’’ guidelines at the planning
board’s recommendation. Board members viewed the state’s guidelines as a one-size-fits-all plan that would restrict development in Sangerville more than in some communities because of its extensive bodies of water. They also earlier expressed concern that the changes would make it more restrictive for landowners who wouldn’t enjoy the benefits they once had, and that its enforcement would be costly for the town.
Hoping to help the town address its concerns, Stephenie MacLagan, the DEP’s shoreland zoning coordinator, contacted Town Manager Michelle Dumoulin on Monday to express a willingness to work with the planning board on the amendments. Her call came a few weeks after the planning board met with Reps. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, and Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, to discuss the new guidelines, Dumoulin noted.
MacLagan’s offer, announced at a selectman’s meeting Tuesday, raised the eyebrows of Tom Carone, a selectman and former planning board member. He recalled that MacLagan came to the planning board last year and ‘’made demands — I will call them demands — that we had to comply or suffer the consequences.’’ He said the meeting was ‘’fairly heated’’ and that MacLagan was not happy that the board stood its ground.
Dumoulin said she couldn’t say what prompted the change in MacLagan. ‘’I don’t know if it’s because of the new Legislature or if we misunderstood from the beginning,’’ she said Tuesday. Dumoulin said she was told there are no fines for noncompliance nor has the town been given a time limit for the adoption.
Carone called it a step in a ‘’positive direction’’ but suggested that the town use ‘’extreme caution and reservation’’ in proceeding.
The hesitation by some communities to update shoreland ordinances may be due to a combination of things, including a misunderstanding, according to MacLagan.
‘’There’s a great misunderstanding of what is shoreland zoning, how does it affect the land, what are these amendments and how do we incorporate them,‘’ she said Wednesday. ‘’I think a great portion of it is just not understanding what shoreland is and how to incorporate the amendments into their ordinance.’’
MacLagan said she gave a presentation about the suggested updates to Sangerville officials in 2009 and that was the last time she heard from them, although some planning board members dispute that statement. She said she learned Monday that the board had proposed an ordinance last year, which was probably the state guidelines unedited and that voters rejected the ordinance. ‘’I never even saw that draft,’’ she said.
An ordinance has to meet the minimum requirements of the state, but the law has within it a mechanism for communities to present evidence that they have unique circumstances or local conditions that warrant a deviation from the minimum guidelines, MacLagan said. That evidence is reviewed by the DEP to make a determination of whether the community’s ordinance can be less stringent than the state’s minimum requirements, she said.
MacLagan said the guidelines are less restrictive because before, even residential development was prohibited within 250 feet of rivers, great ponds and wetlands in a Resource Protection District. With the state’s 2006 amendment, a town can adopt an optional provision that allows the planning board to determine if a single-family dwelling can be built in a Resource Protection District even as close as 75 feet to the shoreline, she said.
Dumoulin said the planning board will meet on Thursday to hear the most recent update from MacLagan.