Proposed zoning would ban fast-food franchises from downtown Camden

By Susan Mustapich | Jan 10, 2019
Photo by: Susan Mustapich New ordinances seek to preserve the unique qualities of downtown Camden, known for its historic buildings and individually owned, Maine-based businesses.

CAMDEN — A proposed zoning change that would limit fast-food franchises to a small area on Route 1 where a shopping plaza and an existing fast-food restaurant are located is one of several proposals heading for public review.

Planning, Development and Code Office Director Jeremy Martin gave the Select Board an overview Jan. 8 of zoning changes and amendments he, the Planning Board and town committees are drafting, and which are priorities for a June public vote.

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell brought the planning director position back to the code office, hiring Martin in 2018 to oversee the work of creating and amending local ordinances. Her goal is to prepare ordinance changes for public votes in June and November, when larger numbers of voters turn out. Zoning changes first go through public hearings and Select Board approval, or a citizen-initiated referendum process, before going to voters.

Forumula-based fast-food restaurants

Martin told the Select Board that a formula-based restaurant restriction amendment will be ready to go to a Planning Board public hearing Jan. 31.

A draft of the ordinance amendment explains the purpose as helping to maintain the unique identity of the core of downtown Camden, which has "traditionally been home to small, locally or Maine owned and operated business, especially food service establishments."

A formula-based fast food restaurant is defined as a food service establishment that is required to offer standardized features, including "standardized menus, ingredients, food preparation, decor, interior or exterior color schemes, external facade and/or employee uniforms."

The ordinance amendment would prohibit formula-based fast-food restaurants in all commercial districts of the town, except for the Highway Business District. This small commercial district is on the west side of Route 1, beginning at the town's southern boundary, and ending at John Street, and contains the Hannaford Supermarket, Bangor Savings Bank, Camden National Bank and Key Bank branches, and the fast-food Subway sandwich shop.

Discussion of fast-food restaurants in downtown Camden is not new. In 2009, when the owners of Dunkin Donuts franchises in Rockland, Rockport and Waldoboro planned to open another store at 5 Elm St., a local citizen group rallied to oppose it. The town planner received 70 letters in opposition within one week of the announcement. Within two weeks, a citizen petition opposing the fast-food donut and coffee shop had collected 600 signatures. Within a month, a referendum was set for a public vote on a retroactive 180-day moratorium on formula businesses in downtown, to allow time to develop ordinances prohibiting such businesses. Soon afterward, the business owners backed out of their plan to open the donut franchise in the heart of Camden's downtown. Later that year, voters approved design standards for the downtown area that favored protection of the town's character, historic features and specific architectural details.

Restaurant service expansion

Martin said the Planning Board has also developed a zoning amendment to allow existing hotels and motels in the Village District to provide limited food service to the general public, in addition to their guests. While the amendment is still in draft form, Martin expects it will also be ready for a Jan. 31 public hearing before the Planning Board.

The amendment pertains to hotels or motels with more than 10, but fewer than 15, sleeping rooms, on lots of 3.5 acres or more, which have existing restaurant facilities and prepare food and serve meals to their guests. The restaurant service cannot increase the number of seats as of Jan. 1, 2019, and cannot exceed 28 seats. A further provision requires that the rooms were in existence and used as of June 8, 1993. Under current zoning, these motels and hotels can serve food only to their guests.

Erosion control ordinance

An amended erosion control ordinance will also be ready for the Jan. 31 public hearing, according to Martin. He told the Select Board he has revised the ordinance to align with state erosion control rules. This amendment requires the installation of erosion control measures and the use of defined best practices "to avoid unreasonable erosion and sedimentation into the town's water resources."

Short-term rental ordinance

The regulation of short-term rentals is an area where more public discussion is needed, according to Martin. He expects this discussion to occur within the next few months.

With the recent hiring of Steve Wilson as code enforcement officer, Martin believes the town can enforce its regulations on short-term rentals, which require a seven-day stay for all rentals, except those in an owner-occupied residence. Wilson was formerly town planner in Camden, and when he left in March 2016, his position was not filled until Martin was hired two years later. During that two-year period, the office was staffed solely by Code Officer Bill O'Donnell, who recently retired.

Martin also mentioned complaints about turnover in short-term rentals. He talked about the option of limiting turnover at a rental property to one in seven days, while at the same time allowing a rental of shorter duration at the property within that seven day period.

In moving forward with changes to the existing ordinance, he suggested Camden consider what neighboring towns are doing, because travelers may choose to stay in those other towns where shorter rentals are allowed.

Select Board member Marc Ratner asked that the town set up a timeframe for discussing short-term rental regulations. He was concerned that short-term rentals can be damaging to the quality of life for year-round residents, based on similar discussions going on around the country.

Board member Alison McKellar discussed concerns brought to her by residents and businesses. She has heard from those who believe short-term rentals are over-regulated, as well as those who believe more regulation is needed.

The town can do something right away, she said: better educate the community about the existing regulations and bring more people into the discussion.

In June 2018, a business group of inn and bed-and-breakfast owners asked town officials to enforce current dwelling unit ordinances and to initiate a public process to address short-term rental issues. At that time, Martin had said enforcement was complaint-based, and O'Donnell's time could not be devoted to policing the internet for violations.

Other ordinances

Martin mentioned two additional ordinances that may be further developed for a public vote in June. One is for marijuana cultivation, product manufacture and retail. He said there is some urgency to getting this done. In 2018, a now-defunct Select Board-appointed Cannabis Working Group finalized its recommendations, which included licensing small-scale marijuana growing and product manufacture anywhere in Camden, except around schools and the Camden Public Library. Martin said he didn't agree with all of the recommendations, but called the group's work "a good framework."

Another ordinance that may move forward is being drafted by the Historical Resources Committee, and pertains to the demolition of historically significant properties.

Board member Jenna Lookner recommended moving forward a food sovereignty ordinance, which was included on a list of ordinances for consideration Martin presented.

Other items on the list included a community living arrangements ordinance to ensure that the town’s zoning is consistent with state and federal law as it relates to the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, a medical cannabis caregivers ordinance regarding cultivation facilities, products manufacturing and retail, and an inland waterway mooring ordinance.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Jeff Sukeforth | Jan 10, 2019 18:55

Sorry cannot buy into this, again a few want Camden to go without. Couldn't have a DD because it was quaint enough. Now before anything even comes close to wanting to come into town, some want to make it so they won't even apply.  Unique in what manner, if you mean kind of like Boothbay Harbor with t-shirt shops and high end clothing which the average person cannot afford then keep it to yourself.  Let's simply give our trade away to some other town. Bogus on so many ways.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jan 10, 2019 16:25

Camden is unique. To change it into fast-food "Rockland" would be a dis-service to the community. I agree with the length of time one should stay, one week, as this would be the Camden we all know and love. Hopefully there will be more preference comment from locals?

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