HAMPDEN, Maine — Janet Hughes, who was sworn in Monday as the new chairman of the Town Council, promptly vowed to get the town back on track from what she called a “train wreck” over the last few weeks.
Nearly three hours into the meeting, though, after councilors agreed to forward a now-invalid 2010 comprehensive plan to a new citizen committee for review, Hughes still was met with public frustration.
Many of the estimated 75 residents who turned out Monday wanted nothing less than a full repeal of the 2010 comprehensive plan, a guiding document that has caused much consternation in town.
“Town ordinances and comprehensive plans have overridden common sense in this town,” said Bernie Philbrick, a vocal opponent who announced Monday that he is running for the Town Council seat that was vacated earlier this month by former chairman Matt Arnett. The town will hold a special election on June 14 to fill that seat.
Councilor Kristen Hornbrook, who has expressed sympathy with citizen frustration, called on councilors to scrap the plan. Instead, councilors — minus Hornbrook — moved it forward to a committee that will be composed of councilors, planning board members, municipal staff and residents.
The decision seemed to do little to ease tension as many residents left the meeting shaking their heads.
The 2010 comprehensive plan has been a sore spot among residents for the last few months because some believe it erodes their personal property rights and mandates conservation. The plan, a guiding document, allows the town to create zoning ordinances, which then dictate what types of development can be done in what areas. The town’s first comprehensive plan was passed in the 1960s and has been updated in 1986 and 2001.
Councilors adopted the 2010 plan last October after spending 18 months creating it, but the document has been under scrutiny by residents ever since. Several town meetings have been held over the last several weeks, offering many townspeople the opportunity to voice concerns.
Amid those concerns, the Town Council voted earlier this month to table any further action on the 2010 plan. Later that week, town leaders discovered the plan never was properly adopted in the first place because it was not recommended by the planning board, a requirement of the municipal charter.
Many residents on Monday felt that unfortunate oversight on the town’s part was more than enough reason to scrap the 2010 plan once and for all. Ed Armstrong said the town should keep the 2001 plan.
“It’s very strict,” Armstrong said. “Why anyone would want to make it more strict, I don’t understand.”
Resident Lisa Carter also responded to claims of misinformation and said the town councilors are the ones spreading misinformation, not townspeople.
The next council meeting is set for April 6.