The Camden Select Board plans to discuss ordinance changes for parking and open space subdivisions at their Aug. 10 meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m.

The agenda for the full meeting is on the town website, www.camdenmaine.gov.

Parking requirements

In July, Planning Board members recommended proposed changes to eliminate off-street parking requirements for most businesses in the downtown and harbor districts by a vote of 3 to 1, with Anita Brosius-Scott, Christopher Rheault and Chairman Ethan Shaw voting in favor and Mark Siegenthaler voted against the proposed changes. The Board also voted 4-0 to send the proposed changes to the Select Board for review.

The proposal would amend the town’s land use ordinance, which defines parking requirements throughout the town.  Amendments to the ordinance require a public vote.

The Select Board originally requested that the Planning Board look at eliminating off-street parking, which they see as a burdensome requirement for the small, one-of-a kind, Maine-based businesses the town seeks to attract.

Proposed changes would exempt retail stores and restaurants from off-street parking requirements.

Existing off-street parking requirements in the downtown and harbor districts will remain for lodging establishments, churches, places of assembly, theaters and halls, day care, and schools, whether public, private, nursery or commercial.

Currently, downtown businesses must provide off-street parking spaces based on the type and size of the business. For retail, the criteria is square footage of the store. For restaurants, it is based on the amount of seating.

Open space subdivision ordinance changes

On Aug. 5, the Planning Board voted to recommend changes to make open space zoning rules more workable for subdivisions, including those with condominiums or multi-unit and common buildings.

The changes could also benefit affordable housing development.

The vote was 3 to 0 in favor of recommending the changes to the Select Board for a November public vote.

The three board members present at the meeting were Chair Ethan Shaw, Mark Siegenthaler and Andrew Smith. Three members are a quorum for the purpose of voting on the five-member board.

The purpose of amending the current open space zoning ordinance is to change standards for rural subdivisions to create more flexible and affordable open space development. The changes are intended to provide new opportunities to create additional housing, Martin said.

One change reduces lot sizes in the Rural I and II districts, which are very large in the current ordinance. Another change clarifies condominiums and cooperatives are allowed in open space developments.

Martin told the Planning Board three major factors driving up the cost of housing development, and worsening the housing crisis that has hit the Midcoast are the costs of labor, materials and land. He said he has heard from developers, consultants and realtors that burdensome open space standards limit residential development in Camden.

Under the current open space zoning ordinance in Camden, a developer would need 21 acres to build a three-lot subdivision in the Rural I district and 12 acres to build a three-lot subdivision in Rural II.

The option of clustering of housing allowed under open space zoning includes cooperatives and condos, and provides benefits to developers and residents by reducing site and infrastructure costs, he said.

The proposed changes would not affect the stated goals in the land use ordinance, that open space zoning maintain the rural, natural and scenic qualities of the town, and within developing areas provide flexibility in the design residential development.

Martin said the changes could facilitate housing projects, such as the Mid-Coast Cohousing and Realty Resources proposals for the town-owned Sagamore Farm property. They are not being proposed solely for that purpose and are not spot zoning,  but would also facilitate other subdivisions and development throughout the town, he said.

The proposed change to open space zoning would be optional, he said.

In the Rural I district, the changes would reduce the required lot size for open space development from seven acres per unit to 60,000 square feet, which is the lot size requirement in that district. The current standard in this district — that each lot within a subdivision has to have at least 1 acre (43,560 sq. ft.) of buildable land — would not change.

In the Rural II district, the proposed changes would reduce the lot size for open space development from four acres per unit to 60,000 square feet. The current standard in this district — that each lot within a subdivision has to have at least 30,000 square feet of buildable land —would not change.

In the Coastal Residential District, lot sizes for properties with public sewer are 30,000 square feet, and 60,000 for properties without public sewer. The primary change to this district is the definition of numbers of units allowed in a single building and the allowance of common buildings. These definitions are the same as proposed for Rural I and II districts.

Proposed changes define multi-unit uildings in these open space developments as allowed to have up to six units, but the average number of units in all the buildings in the development is limited to four units. The developments may also have common ownership structures, such as a common house or water and septic buildings.

During public comment, two emails were read into the record.

Kristen Smith objected to making the current zoning requirements optional. This would contradict the purpose of open space zoning to maintain rural, natural and scenic qualities of the town. The rural districts contain land with natural resource constraints and/or are especially important to recreation, farming and woodlands and/or protection of water quality, she wrote. Making this optional will cause negative impacts, according to Smith, who opposes making these changes throughout Rural I, II and Coastal districts, including the Sagamore Farm property.

Joe Cloutier wrote about what Camden needs to do to support affordable housing development, and offers his input based on his experience in affordable housing over the past 45 years. Cloutier’s company Realty Resources has sent a letter of interest to the town to develop affordable housing on the Sagamore Farm property. The Select Board recently discussed not taking any action this year on the letters of interest it has received for the town-owned land.

Cloutier lists three impediments to affordable housing. First is the cost of land, which typically affordable housing developers can do nothing about unless working with a land-trust or a town’s tax-acquired property, he said.

Second, and more important, is zoning that does not facilitate affordable housing, according to Cloutier. Last year they looked for land in Camden for affordable housing, and found land to buy, but the low-density zoning and lot sizes made it impossible to make the project feasible. The company found the project to be feasible in Belfast, and plan to finish it in the fall.

Building affordable housing, zoning needs to allow high density for lot sizes and units, he wrote. Other zoning that needs to be relaxed for affordable housing is minimum road frontage, parking requirements, road specifications and connection fees to sewer and water.

Cloutier’s company has used tax increment financing in many places to make affordable housing work. In Massachusetts they have successfully used a tool called an “affordable housing overlay zone.” This is a zone crafted to facilitate affordable housing, has the tools he mentioned above and can flow into any zone to make affordable housing feasible. Cloutier encourages Camden to create such a zone to make affordable housing more likely.

The final challenge is the cost of labor and materials. In the Midcoast, contractors are extremely busy, and materials are at a 15-year high, but coming down. Manufactured housing can be possibly be used, Cloutier wrote, and his company is evaluating using 3-D printing technology for housing made from concrete.

Martin said he wrote back to Cloutier that open space zoning changes do not apply only to affordable housing. Cloutier responded that the zoning change will not solve the problems Camden faces with affordable housing, but he does support them.

Martin also said he let Cloutier know that if Realty Resources has proposed amendments to share with him, he would review them and see what can be proposed in the future.

Planning Board members also voted 3-0  to continue meeting remotely via Zoom, instead of in person, for the next 60 days.

Stated reasons for continuing to conduct meetings remotely were explained by Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin. At least two members of the Planning Board either will be either out of the country or out of the state during the next 60 days, and there is an “urgent” need due to the increased surge of the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus in the Midcoast, Martin said. This is a zone specially crafted for affordable housing, and can make the tools mentioned above to flow into any zone.