CAMDEN — November ballot issues could bring about a major change to the minimum lot size in some rural subdivisions and eliminate off-street parking requirements for many downtown businesses.

Voters will also be asked, via non-binding question, whether they prefer voting on the annual municipal budget by paper ballot or by a show of hands at an in-person town meeting. Board members voted 5 to 0 to put this question assessing voter opinion to a November vote.

Town Manager Audra Caler said when this issue was discussed at a prior meeting, the sentiment of board members was to directly ask voters their preference on voting on the budget, instead of asking if they want to form a task force to look into this, as recommended by the Charter Commission. Regardless of the wording of the non-binding referendum, the result of the vote is in the hands of the Select Board, she said.

Open space zoning change

Vice Chair Alison McKellar raised strong objections, and voted against placing on the November ballot, a proposed change to open space zoning in the Rural I and II districts. The change would reduce the minimum lot sizes in those districts to 1.5 acres, when developing an open space subdivision. Current minimum lot sizes for open space developments are 7 acres in Rural 1 and 4 acres in Rural II.

The purpose of open space zoning “is, within rural areas of Camden, to maintain the rural, natural, and scenic qualities of the Town; and, within developing areas, to provide for flexibility in the design of open space residential development,” according to the town’s zoning ordinance.

The Select Board voted 4-1 on Sept. 7 to place the proposed zoning change on the November ballot after a public hearing. Several times during the meeting it came up that Sept. 7 was the last date for board decisions on the November ballot.

McKellar pointed out that Camden’s two rural districts make up the majority of town zoning. She sees potential for this zoning change to transform legacy farmland and natural areas into subdivisions and degrade the environment.

While open space zoning requires preservation of 60% of any lot, McKeller illustrated what reducing the lot size could look like.

No one would build a house covering 40% of a 7-acre lot, but a mansion-sized house could be built to cover 40% of a 1.5-acre lot, she said. She also complained about restrictions the proposed zoning imposes on multi-unit buildings in an open space development. She questioned why the town is not listening to advice regarding what is needed to build affordable housing by Joe Cloutier, of Realty Resources in Rockport, which develops affordable housing.

She said she could not vote to send this to voters, because she does not yet understand its impact on certain parcels of land. If the language was revised to restrict the zoning change to affordable housing development she could approve it, she said. No other board members discussed McKellar’s suggestion.

Board members Marc Ratner  and Sophie Romana supported sending the zoning change to voters saying it could result in more affordable housing in Camden.

As soon as Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin brought the proposal to the Planning Board, members endorsed it quickly, Ratner said. “It makes a lot of sense by converting land that wasn’t useful and making it available for housing.”

Board member Matt Siegel also voted to place the change before voters.

Board Chair Bob Falciani supported moving the zoning change to a public vote, while clarifying with Martin that it would allow market rate housing development as well. This is something town officials will have to keep an eye on, he said.

Falciani wants everyone to understand that this change may bring in people who are development savvy and can develop some projects which are not affordable housing, but are modest to expensive homes. He asked Martin if this was discussed at the Planning Board, to which Martin replied “Not a lot.”

Caler explained the zoning change would promote better use of infrastructure and impact on the environment. While not necessarily creating affordable housing in every instance, “you are going to get a more affordable price point as opposed to our current ordinance,” she said.

Susan Reider and Stephanie Smith, board members of the Knox County Homeless Coalition,  spoke in support of the zoning change during the public hearing.

On Aug. 5, the Planning Board voted 3-0 to move the open space zoning proposal to the Select Board, with Chair Ethan Shaw, Mark Siegenthaler and Andrew Smith voting, and two members absent. Martin had explained that the zoning change could facilitate housing projects, such as the Mid-Coast Cohousing and Realty Resources proposals the town had received for the Sagamore Farm property, but is not being proposed solely for that purpose.

The Planning Board also held a July 15 workshop on open space zoning with representatives of Mid-Coast Cohousing present. A letter Cloutier submitted at Martin’s request comments that numerous zoning changes are needed to support affordable housing development and the proposed open space zoning change will not accomplish this.

Changes to downtown off-street parking requirements

The Select Board unanimously approved placing an ordinance change on the November ballot that will eliminate a requirement for most downtown businesses to provide off-street parking for their customers. The ordinance change is for the downtown business district and transitional harbor business district.

Downtown businesses currently have to lease spaces in private parking lots to meet requirements. The number of off-street spaces required depends on the type and size of the businesses.

Martin explained the proposed change would exempt retail, restaurants, business and professional offices, medical offices, personal service and banks, sports and fitness centers and dwelling units and rooming houses. Hotels, motels and schools are not exempted from offsite parking requirements.

Ratner, who is Select Board liaison to the Planning Board, said the ordinance change takes away the “somewhat archaic practice” of renting parking spaces somewhere else in town and makes it easier for people to do business in town. “It was vetted and discussed greatly by the Planning Board  and they are highly in favor of it.”

Siegel said the Planning Board had many iterations and deliberations on this ordinance change. The final version makes the most sense to business owners and feedback has been positive, he said. Siegel recently served on the Planning Board prior to his June election to the Select Board.

Earlier this year, the Camden Police Department resumed enforcement of 2-hour and 15-minute parking spaces in the downtown. A parking study is also underway, with consultant John Burke, of Marion, Mass., hired to conduct it. As part of the study, data on the use of existing spaces and lots will be compiled, and opinions of downtown stakeholders and the public sought.