Comprehensive plan gets final approval from Hampden Council

Posted Oct. 15, 2012, at 10:33 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — Six years after it first became a subject of discussion, the final draft of Hampden’s oftentimes contentious and divisive comprehensive land use plan has received final town council approval.

The vote was 6-1 in favor of approving the sometimes controversial and incendiary plan, which was also approved by the planning board last month. Councilor Kristen Hornbrook was the only one to vote in opposition of it.

“I’m not supporting the comprehensive plan because I know how it originated and it’s a prime example of government overreaching,” Hornbrook said.

The state-mandated plan lays a legal framework for the town’s zoning and land use regulations.

The plan, which was initially taken up in 2006 before eventually being revised and renamed the 2010 comprehensive plan, generated plenty of criticism and complaints from residents who felt the plan was too rigid, restrictive and intrusive when it came to private property rights.

Councilor Jeremy Williams was a member of the Hampden Citizen’s Comprehensive Plan Committee formed to review and revise the plan.

“There were a lot of good ideas in there, but what drove it was another agenda with too many conservation districts. That’s what got people’s dander up,” said Williams. “They had a comp plan that was basically a template brought here by the Trust for Public Land from out of San Francisco and came into the community with smart growth and similar language and everyone just kind of signed onto it despite the fact they had an agenda.”

Things degenerated to the point that an impasse developed and city councilors threatened to dissolve the citizen’s committee due to lack of progress.

“When Councilor Hornbrook brought the original draft to my attention, I was appalled,” said Williams.

A breakthrough came when Dean Bennett, Hampden’s community and economic development director acted as the committee liaison to the council and moderator/facilitator. At the same time, the state relaxed the requirements and rules for the plans.

Bennett said the relaxed rules allowed the committee to better address concerns, back off prescribed conditions and strict terms, and soften the language to allow more wiggle room and application.

“This brought a lot of good folks together to create a plan, and it will address many core issues as we grow,” said Councilor Andre Cushing.

In other business:

• Town Manager Susan Lessard updated the council on preparations for the coming Nov. 6 election, reporting that requests for absentee ballots are way up and interest seems high for this election. The last day for Hampden residents to request absentee ballots is Nov. 1. They must be returned to the polling place by 8 p.m on election night.

• Jean Lawlis also updated fellow councilors on ongoing efforts to revitalize the Skehan Center, which functioned as the gym for the old Hampden Academy. Hampden has taken ownership of the old Hampden Academy property via a land swap with SAD 22 and has already negotiated an agreement with the Hampden Recreation Department to use the Skehan Center as its headquarters and prime facility. Lawlis said Recreation Director Kurt Mathies has identified other potential revenue streams for the facility, one of which may be renting it out to local schools such as John Bapst Memorial High School for basketball practices. She also reported that several local residents and business owners have come forward to offer supplies and services to fix the center up.

Habitat for Humanity Operations Manager Amanda Charette updated councilors on the progress being made to build a house for a single mother and her three children. There will be an official groundbreaking for the home, which will be built on Cottage Street, on Saturday. Charette said the goal is to have the home built and the family in it by Christmas.

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