A special town meeting will be held on an amendment to allow a building height of 38 feet on the middle school property on Knowlton Street, and to amend the floodplain ordinance.

Select Board members voted unanimously Dec. 19 to approve the warrant for the special town meeting, which will take place Jan. 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room. Board Chairman John French was absent from the meeting, and Board member Marc Ratner chaired the meeting.

Height limit on middle school property

Voters will be asked Jan. 9  to amend the Camden Zoning Ordinance regulations in the Traditional Village district to allow an increased maximum height of 38 feet on lots on which public schools existed as of 2017. The only lot affected by this change is the middle school property on Knowlton Street, which is the future site of a new school building. The existing maximum height limit in the Traditional Village district is 30 feet.

The new Camden Rockport Middle School building will be set back approximately 160 feet from Knowlton Street. The highest part of the building facing the street is the cafeteria roof ridge, which is 28 feet in height, measured from the ground up. From Knowlton Street, the property slopes downhill toward the athletic fields behind the existing school buildings. The tallest part of the new middle school building is a three-story classroom wing that will be located downhill from Knowlton Street. Based on a complex measuring rule required by the zoning ordinance, the three-story classroom wing is 38 feet high. Because it is located downhill from Knowlton Street, the height of the entire building will appear a consistent level from front to back.

Some of the existing school buildings on the middle school property already exceed the height limit for the Traditional  Village District. The Mary E. Taylor building, built in the 1920s, is 41 feet high. The school's gymnasium is 31 feet high.

The Select Board held a public hearing on the matter Dec. 5. Will Gartley, chairman of the Camden Rockport Middle School Building Committee, presented SAD 28's request for the building height amendment to the zoning ordinance at the public hearing. No members of the public spoke either in favor or against the change at the meeting.

The Planning Board held a public hearing on the height limit change Nov. 9, and unanimously recommended the change to be considered by the Select Board for a public vote. Two Knowlton Street residents submitted emails in favor of changing the height limit on the property, and three Camden residents and members of the Building Committee also spoke in favor. Lowrie Sargent, Planning Board chairman, was the sole person to come out against allowing an increased height limit on the middle school property, stating the limit was known before the building was designed. Sargent voluntarily withdrew from Planning Board discussions and votes on the issue. Planning  Board member Mark Seigenthaler also withdrew from the Nov. 9 vote, citing concerns about maintaining the integrity of the zoning ordinance.

Floodplain management ordinance

Voters will also be asked Jan. 9 to amend the town's Floodplain Management Ordinance to bring a subsection of the ordinance into conformance with state and federal laws. The zoning change in question pertains to a requirement that the space below the lowest floor of buildings in the coastal plain velocity area must be constructed with breakaway walls.

Camden's current coastal floodplain ordinance prohibits new construction or renovation of any structure in the velocity zone if the space below the lowest floor with breakaway walls exceeds 300 square feet. The amendment voters will see at the special town meeting removes the language "to enclose less than 300 square feet of area.”