HAMPDEN, Maine — It didn’t take long to get to the hot-button issue that concerned most of the 55 townspeople attending Monday night’s Town Council meeting.
Eighty-five minutes, several public testimonials, four or five motions, and a 5-1 council vote later, the Citizens Comprehensive Plan Committee was given a two-month extension to finish its review of the controversial 2010 plan and present recommendations to the council.
Councilor Thomas Brann made the motion and Councilor Bill Shakespeare seconded it after a spirited session of debate, proposals and counter-proposals. With Shelby Wright not in attendance, the council approved Brann’s motion 5-1 with Brann, Shakespeare, Andre Cushing, Janet Hughes and Jean Lawlis voting in favor and Kristen Hornbrook voting against.
The vote gives the 20-member committee nine weeks to review the remaining 11 sections, the most contentious of which addresses land use, which has many landowners concerned about their personal property rights.
“That’s not realistic,” committee member Lisa Kelley told Brann and Shakespeare during a five-minute recess immediately after the vote as about 30 residents — most of whom expressed dissatisfaction — filed out of the council chambers.
The citizens committee, which has held seven meetings since being formed by the council in May, effectively was put on pause Sept. 19 when the council voted to table a committee request for an extension after its Sept. 8 deadline to finish its review expired.
Councilors said they were concerned with a lack of progress on the review, which had only been performed on three of the plan’s 14 sections.
Some voiced a desire to allow the process to continue, albeit in an expedited fashion.
“We’re setting policy that may be followed by other towns as well. The goal is to develop a living, working document and the ideal has been lost in the execution of it,” Cushing said. “I think a date sends a message to the committee that we want to move this forward, but without drawing too much of a line in the sand and shortchanging the process.”
Brann’s motion installs Hampden community and economic development director Dean Bennett as the new committee facilitator.
Bennett was amenable to serving as facilitator, saying taking up the land use section first and then applying recommendations to other applicable sections may be the most efficient way to go.
“When you look at the progress to date, the sections by their nature are not all connected to the land use section,” Bennett said. “Other categories yet to be discussed such as forestry and water are designed to support land use, so I think the most efficient way to complete this process would be to discuss the land use section and find out what measures the committee is more comfortable with in contrast to those that they are most concerned with.
“In terms of time and expense, this can be wrapped up more quickly by agreeing to an overall land use strategy and then addressing the sections based on that strategy.”
Brann initially proposed that Bennett come back on Dec. 5 to report on the committee’s progress and make a recommendation on whether an extension is warranted.
That prompted Town Manager Susan Lessard to voice a concern.
“I’m concerned about putting a staff member in the position of determining if enough progress was being made and putting the onus on him,” Lessard said. “Our staff needs to have clear direction and parameters and not be set up to be the tattletale in the group.”
Brann then modified his original motion of a Nov. 21 deadline to Dec. 5, splitting the difference with Cushing’s suggestion of a Dec. 19 deadline and taking the responsibility off Bennett and instead requiring the committee’s final recommendations.
The cost of using a private, outside facilitator was a point of contention and one of the prime reasons the committee’s extension request was tabled. Bennett’s service as facilitator will significantly lower a projected $20,000 cost to finish the review, so the deadline extension ultimately was granted but cut down significantly from the original request of a Feb. 29, 2012, deadline.
Committee members said they were planning to continue regular meetings on Thursday night and may meet more regularly than every two weeks.
The council also voted unanimously to approve the infrastructure committee’s recommendation to notify the Maine Department of Conservation that a 57-foot fishing boat that has been aground on a mud flat since July 20 is considered abandoned.
That means the Department of Conservation has 60 days to remove the Eastern Star, formerly named the Roamer, as owner Josh Mizrachi’s attempts to free the boat have been unsuccessful.