The Bangor Area Homeless Shelter is shown in April 2020. The city Planning Board will take up a proposal Tuesday on allowing new emergency shelters in city government and institutional service districts. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Bangor’s planning board will meet Tuesday night to discuss a change to the city’s code that would officially allow emergency shelters in city zones meant for government and institutional buildings.

There’s no new emergency shelter proposed in the city, and the possibility of a new one coming up soon is small. But letters the city sent out last week sparked questions among residents about what exactly the change entailed.

Homeowners who live within 100 feet of a building zoned for government and institutional use — including schools and hospitals — received letters last week from the city informing them of Tuesday’s meeting and the proposal to amend the code to allow for emergency shelters.

The proposal is coming before the Planning Board because the city’s land code doesn’t currently allow for such uses, Bangor Planning Officer Anne Krieg said.

The city defined transitional housing and emergency shelter in its code in 2013, but failed to add language that would allow for emergency shelters to be built in Bangor, she said.

Bangor already has a handful of emergency shelters, including the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, the Hope House run by Penobscot Community Health Care and the Shaw House, a youth shelter. The proposal coming before the Planning Board would apply to newly proposed shelters.

“We’re just trying to fix something that happened in 2013,” Krieg said. “It’s a zoning change. It’s not a site plan, it’s not a land development permit application.” 

Currently, government and institutional service districts in Bangor allow a range of properties run by government entities and non-profit organizations including schools and hospitals. Places of worship, daycare facilities, cemeteries and nursing homes are also allowed in those districts.

The city’s code doesn’t list emergency shelters as one of the allowed uses in that zone.

“Because we didn’t put it anywhere, it’s not allowed anywhere,” Krieg said of the omission of language that would allow emergency shelters in Bangor. 

If the board votes to approve the proposal, the city code would be amended to allow for emergency shelter on a conditional basis, she said. Conditional use refers to buildings that require a “higher level of review from the planning board,” she said, meaning that the planning board would have to review a proposal for any new emergency shelter.  

Emergency shelters are defined as non-profits or public agencies that provide overnight shelter for 70 or more people. 

The likelihood of such construction in the immediate future is “minimal,” Krieg said. There are no active proposals to build emergency shelters, she said. 

Bangor residents will be able to give public comment at Tuesday’s meeting. 

The Planning Board will meet again on Sept. 21 to vote on whether to recommend that the amendment go forward. After that, the City Council would vote on whether to adopt it, Krieg said. 

Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.