In response to concerns that arose after an Elm Street storefront was eyed last year for a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, the Camden Planning Board has been working on new standards to help avoid the sort of moratorium that was put in place when that formula business attempted to locate in the town.

Planning Board Chairman Chris McLean said at a hearing Feb. 3 that the board decided that banning chain stores outright was not the appropriate response. He said the testimony the board heard as a result of the Dunkin’ Donuts inquiry led members to concentrate on the aesthetic appearance of building exteriors, rather than the operations that take place inside the stores.

Many of those who spoke at the hearing expressed confusion as to why the board was concentrating on such issues as color and type of siding material.

“There’s something special in Camden that’s worth protecting,” said Josh Moore. “Architecture is part of the character of our town.” Moore said the unique quality of Camden is intangible and trying to control each business’s unique aesthetic quality is “a step in the wrong direction.”

“We’re sending a message that we don’t really want to send right now,” Moore said. He said the standards would tell businesses they were wanted, but they would have to go through a lot of paperwork to open in the town.

“Camden is what somebody thinks it should look like,” he said, “but what that is varies from board to board and from person to person.”

Moore suggested that the standards should only apply to what he called “the highest class of businesses” and defined those as ones with a certain number of outlets.

In response to questions from the board, Moore said his greatest concern was the addition of another step in the permitting process for a new business.

He said the new standards would not prevent a Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks from locating in the town.

“The McDonald’s in Freeport is a lovely little building, but it’s a McDonald’s on the inside,” Moore said. He added that he thought it might take time to make the standards workable and suggested that June might be too soon for a vote on the issue.

Planning Board members Lowrie Sargent and Jan MacKinnon said the board worked hard to make the document short and welcoming.

David Dickey, who owns many large business properties in the downtown area, raised a number of issues and said the document was confusing. He said it would be easy for a business to trigger regulations that would require a 60-day review period, and the delay involved in such a review might discourage business growth.

“I don’t want empty storefronts,” Dickey said, and added that new businesses might have trouble securing loans if there were too many delays. He said the rules are unnecessary, because local businesses are good at regulating themselves.

“Everybody takes great pride in what they do when they come to Camden,” Dickey said.

Citing a recent article in the Sunday edition of the Boston Globe, Leonard Lookner said he didn’t think the pressure to reduce the proposed standards would help fill the town’s empty storefronts.

Amy Russell said she was concerned that attempts to control the aesthetic appearance of the downtown would not have the desired effect.

“Ugly signs will come to town,” Russell said. “They’ll die off if the real body of the business isn’t good.”

She said the time constraints in the standards would discourage businesses from responding quickly to concerns about visual appearance, and it would be difficult to legislate aesthetics.

Tony Grassi said that by failing to deal with the franchise question the board ducked the substance of the issue at hand.

“The unique nature of Camden is what’s inside [the businesses],” Grassi said.

Sargent responded that existing businesses such as Pop & Pac might, at some point in the future, find it necessary to join with a larger, franchise-based company, and prohibiting formula companies could adversely impact those already doing business in Camden.

“I started off wanting to ban formula businesses,” McLean said. “My views have evolved over time.” He said such a ban would keep banks and high-end hotels such as Hilton out of town and might restrict the growth of companies like Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine.

“We certainly don’t want to discourage banks in Camden,” McLean said.

The board is scheduled to meet again Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 5 p.m. to review the comments it heard and to consider changes.

A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, March 3 at 5 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room, with another to follow on Wednesday, March 17 if further changes are made to the standards.

At its meeting April 6, the Select Board will decide whether to place the design standards on the warrant for a June vote. For more information, call the Camden Town Office at 236-3353.