Zoning changes on tap for Belfast

Posted June 21, 2014, at 6:21 a.m.

BELFAST, Maine — City Planner Wayne Marshall would like Belfast residents to know with absolute certainty that the city is not planning to seize anyone’s property by eminent domain.

Then, he would like to invite all residents — including the ones who have told him they are worried about this potentiality — to bring ideas and concerns to the upcoming public hearings on proposed amendments to the zoning ordinances.

“It is best to focus on what reality is,” he told city councilors Tuesday night at a regular meeting, in which some residents did express their fears about the proposed changes.

He said this week that the Belfast Planning Board has been working for about 18 months on the code of ordinances that will help guide growth in the city. The changes were sparked by the city council’s 2009 adoption of a future land use plan, which included policy changes but did not codify the policy into law.

“Our intent was to get to it,” Marshall said. “We’re trying to methodically move forward.”

The board will begin the public hearings by addressing zoning changes proposed for the area inside the U.S. Route 1 Bypass, which he described as the city’s most complicated zoning area.

One major change would make the ordinances more user-friendly and consistent, by reformatting them into a table for each zone that would identify the allowed or prohibited uses.

Instead of reading through a long list of ordinances to see if, for example, a home business is allowed in a particular neighborhood, a person could scan down through the uses permitted in their zone, he said.

“It should make it easier to interpret,” Marshall said.

Another proposed change for within the bypass area would reduce the mandatory minimum lot size for new buildings to 1/4 acre, down from 1/3 acre. The board members also made a provision to allow for building on a lot with no road frontage.

“One goal is to encourage density inside the bypass, where we have existing services, like sewer, sidewalks and lighting,” he said. “They’re neighborhoods, as opposed to being development along a road. We’re also creating opportunities for future development to reflect what existing development is.”

He said that over the last 100 years, development in Belfast has been “pretty moderate,” as the population has hovered between 5,500 and 7,500 people.

“We’re not talking about burgeoning growth here,” he said.

But a handful of the roughly 7,000 people who live in Belfast today came to the Tuesday city council meeting to talk about their fears that the zoning changes will negatively affect their neighborhood — Seaview Terrace, a quiet dead-end road located across Northport Avenue from Waldo County General Hospital.

That road, in the Residential 2 zoning district since 1985, was proposed to be placed in the Residential 3 district by the board.

Some residents told the councilors they feared this move would encourage the construction of medical offices there, or even lead to the seizure of property by eminent domain.

“We all enjoy having a quiet street with very little traffic,” resident Mark Kelley said, asking the councilors to consider changing the zoning designation.

Mayor Walter Ash responded, saying that it is a positive thing that residents are becoming more aware of their zoning designations, and what uses are allowed where they live.

“What’s happening is they’re making you aware of what’s already happening,” he said.

Councilor Roger Lee agreed.

“Quite honestly, the process is working the way it’s supposed to work. You get upset, you come in and talk about it,” he said.

One day later, the planning board voted at its regular meeting to recommend that Seaview Terrace be included in the Residential 1 zoning district after all.

“The purpose of having public hearings is to put the proposals forward and have public comment,” Marshall said of the process.

The public hearings for the zoning changes all will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Troy Howard Middle School cafeteria.

Residential 1 zoning district is scheduled for Wednesday, June 25; Residential 2 and 3 zoning districts are scheduled for Wednesday, July 2; and the downtown and waterfront mixed-use districts will be held Tuesday, July 8.

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