BANGOR, Maine — Bangor city officials are spiking a proposed ordinance that would allow landscaping in the city’s rural, residential and agricultural zone, so they can try again with a new ordinance.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to accept staff recommendation that they postpone indefinitely consideration of an ordinance to “define and regulate” landscaping businesses in the zone.
That decision comes after the council voted 5-4 in April to table consideration of the ordinance that some councilors argued would derail a lawsuit against the city filed over landscaping business owned by former Councilor James Gallant.
City staffers said they still plan to address the issue, but after discussions with landscapers and abutting property owners, they felt it easier to scrap the current proposal so they could draft an entirely new ordinance.
“The nature of it is going to be significantly different from what you saw last time,” City Manager Cathy Conlow said during a pre-council meeting.
Historically, the city has granted certificates of occupancy to landscaping businesses under the umbrella of agricultural uses in the district that was established “to preserve agricultural use lands where urban development is generally not feasible.”
But after Gallant’s business began operating, three of his neighbors — including Rep. John Schneck, D-Bangor, and his wife, Mary Tedesco-Schneck — sued the city and the business, seeking to overturn a September 2014 decision by the city’s board of appeals upholding Gallant’s right to operate the business at his 1.5-acre home at 2100 Ohio St.
The plaintiffs argued that landscaping is not a permitted use under the city’s zoning ordinance since it is not specifically enumerated as a permitted or conditional use in the district.
During an ad hoc meeting May 21 to discuss possible changes to the ordinance, Gallant said that his business had grown to the point that he no longer felt it belongs in its current location and that he was in the process of building a 40-by-50-foot structure on 70 acres he owns in Glenburn.
Councilor Ben Sprague said Monday that Gallant told him he has relocated his business to Glenburn, giving the council more time to tackle the issue of landscaping in the zone.
“It still illuminated some holes that have to be fixed,” Conlow said.
Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas said in April that several other landscaping businesses could be forced to relocate if the city were to lose the lawsuit and the ordinance is not changed to allow landscaping in the zone.
Several landscaping companies are already operating in the zone, including Sprague’s Nursery and Garden Center’s landscaping branch, Patchwork Lawn Care, Black Bear Lawn Care and The Green Works, according to city code officials.
The proposed ordinance would have grandfathered all existing landscaping businesses in the zone. It also had the potential to end the lawsuit over Gallant’s business.
Nicklas said it was clear in a follow-up meeting to which every landscaper in the zone and every abutting property owner was invited that the various parties were looking for something different than what was proposed in the ordinance.
That ordinance defined and allowed landscaping businesses in the zone, creating a 150-foot setback landscaping facilities and neighboring structures, required a buffer zone, made minimum parking requirements for employees and required the city’s code department to notify abutting property owners when a new application is made for a landscaping business.
Citing the difficulty of amending ordinances before the Planning Commission, Nicklas said it was easier to wipe the slate clean and begin the process anew.
That will likely come in the form of a discussion item for the planning commission, which rejected the initial ordinance, to consider various options based on input from community members and research of what other cities do, Nicklas said.
“We are continuing to work and hope to have something in July,” Conlow said.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.