The Camden Select Board set public hearings for Tuesday, Sept. 7, on two proposed zoning changes, with no discussion.

One zoning change would eliminate off-street parking requirements for downtown retail stores and restaurants.

The other is a major change to open space zoning to reduce required lot sizes in subdivisions in rural zones.

The Planning Board received input on open space zoning from a consultant assisting Midcoast Cohousing LLC and sought input from Joe Cloutier of Realty Resources. Both offered proposals to develop affordable housing on the town-owned Sagamore Property.

Parking requirements

The Select Board originally asked the Planning Board to look at eliminating off-street parking requirements for downtown businesses, which board members see as burdensome for the small businesses.

Off-street parking rules currently require downtown business owners to provide a number of parking spaces off Main and Elm streets. The number required is based on the type and size of business. The rules have not been enforced for retail stores, at least in recent years, but are verified by the Code Enforcement Office for any business serving food or alcohol when annual victualer and liquor licenses are up for renewal.

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 3-1. The board also voted 4-0 to send the proposed changes to the Select Board for review.

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

Existing off-street parking requirements will remain for lodging establishments, churches, places of assembly, theaters and halls, daycare operations and schools, both public and private.

The proposal would amend the town’s land use ordinance, which requires a public vote.

To provide more downtown parking, the town leases a 100-space lot in the Knox Mill complex. The lease-purchase plan, approved by voters, will result in the town’s eventual ownership of the lot. This summer, municipal employees began parking there, to free up what was employee parking on Washington Street behind the town office building, for residents and visitors during the tourist season.

Open space subdivision changes

Open space zoning provides a mechanism where homes can be clustered on a smaller part of the site so that at least 60% of the property can be retained as open space.

On Aug. 5, the Planning Board voted 3-0 to recommend changes that reduce lot sizes in open space subdivisions in the Rural I and II districts, and clarify the rules for condominiums, multi-unit and common buildings in these subdivisions.

Currently, a 21-acre site is required to build a three-lot subdivision in the Rural I. A 12-acre site is needed for the same subdivision in Rural II.

The proposed  minimum lot sizes in Rural I and II open space subdivisions would be reduced to a little more than an acre. Currently, in these subdivisions, the minimum lot size is seven acres in Rural I and four acres in Rural II.

Also proposed is a new definition of multi-unit buildings and common ownership structures. Single buildings would be allowed to have up to six units, with the average number for the development limited to four units. Developments may have common structures, such as a common house or water and septic buildings.

The proposed changes would be optional, meaning a developer can still choose to create a subdivision following the existing lot size rules.

Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin said he has heard from developers, consultants and realtors that current open space zoning is burdensome and limits residential development in Camden. The changes could facilitate housing projects, such as the Mid-Coast Cohousing and Realty Resources proposals for the town owned Sagamore Farm property, but are not being proposed solely for that purpose and are not spot zoning, he said.

During the public comment period Aug. 5, two emails were read into the record.

Kristen Smith of Camden objected to making the existing open space zoning requirements optional. This would contradict the zoning’s purpose to maintain the town’s rural, natural and scenic qualities and land important to recreation, farming, woodlands and water quality protection, she said. Smith opposes making the proposed changes throughout Rural I, II and Coastal districts, including the Sagamore Farm property.

Cloutier said in an email the zoning changes will not solve the problems Camden faces with affordable housing, but he does support them. He wrote that his input is based on 45 years of experience in developing affordable housing.

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.

Second is zoning that does not facilitate affordable housing, according to Cloutier. His company recently 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.

To build affordable housing, zoning needs to allow high density for lot sizes and units, he said.

In Massachusetts Realty Resources has successfully used a tool called an “affordable housing overlay zone,” which is crafted to facilitate affordable housing. It includes tools Cloutier lists as changes to minimum road frontage, parking requirements, road specifications and connection fees to sewer and water. This overlay zone “can flow into any zone to make affordable housing feasible,” Cloutier wrote.

Realty Resources has also used tax increment financing in many places to make affordable housing work.

The final challenge to building affordable housing is labor and materials costs, Cloutier said. Contractors in the Midcoast are extremely busy, and materials are at a 15-year high, but coming down. Manufactured housing can possibly be used, and his company is evaluating using 3-D printing technology for housing made from concrete.

At a July 15 workshop on open space zoning, the Planning Board also heard from David Berto of Housing Enterprises Inc. a consulting firm assisting Mid-Coast Cohousing. and Rozanna Patane, with Midcoast Cohousing LLC.

“It’s hard and complicated and small organizations need the support,” Berto said.

He supports the goal of Camden’s open space zoning but said the current regulations do not accomplish this.

“Not only do they not allow the [Midcoast Cohousing] LLC project, but they don’t allow any similar project with any number of units on a Rural I or II property.” He suggested realigning the open space zoning lot size with the underlying zone lot size, which is 60,000 square feet in both rural zones. He also suggested the smaller lot sizes as optional so another person could develop a standard subdivision.

Patane said Midcoast Cohousing LLC is very interested in developing a 35–40-unit housing development in Camden comprised of net-zero buildings. About 33 to 50% of the units would be income restricted to make them affordable to workforce families in the area or who would like to move to the area.

“This zoning amendment came up very early in our conversations because it was clear that the open space provision, intended to encourage cluster development, actually makes it impossible,” Patane said. Building on a 74-acre property like Sagamore Farm would not be cost effective with the current zoning, she said.