Board approves three-month deferral of property tax interest

By Susan Mustapich | Mar 26, 2020
Paving and improvements to the Mechanic Street parking lot will soon be underway after final approval March 24 of a bid for the work.

CAMDEN — The Camden Select Board held its first meeting March 24 where members did not gather in the conference room on Washington Street and instead were connected remotely by conferencing technology.

Board Chairman Bob Falciani said it was a historic event, and encouraged the public to participate and continue to voice their opinions and questions by emailing the board using the comment feature on YouTube while meetings are broadcast live.

The board meeting was broadcast on local cable television channel 1303 and the town's YouTube channel. Members of the public were able to send email comments prior to the meeting, and comment during the meeting on YouTube.

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell, Town Attorney Bill Kelly and Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin participated in the meeting.

State emergency legislation to stop the spread of coronavirus allows board members to hold interactive meetings, with members and the public participating remotely. Kelly explained that one change required by this law is that votes must be taken by roll call, instead of by a show of hands.

Board member Taylor Benzie asked that any resident calling for police or fire services or  emergency medical services alert public safety staff over the telephone if they feel ill, have been traveling or are in a high risk for COVID-19, so that those who respond can take precautions to protect themselves.

Board Vice Chairwoman Alison McKeller said recycling is currently suspended to protect facility staff at the Mid-Coast Solid Waste transfer station in Rockport.

Board member Jenna Lookner said thought should be given to the June town meeting and whether it can be held.

Kelly advised the board to hold scheduled public hearings and move articles onto a June town meeting warrant. Social distancing can be managed at the polls, he said. If it becomes necessary to postpone the open town meeting, held at the Opera House, there is a way to do that on the day of the meeting with a few officials in the auditorium, he said.

Property tax due date deferred

Board members unanimously voted to defer the date when unpaid property tax begins to accrue interest for three months, to July 15. The interest rate is 7%.

Responding to board member questions, Caler-Bell and Falciani said this would not negatively impact the town's cash flow and ability to pay bills during the three-month period.

Parking lot paving

Board members approved a bid for long-discussed paving and improvements to the Mechanic and Washington streets parking lots in downtown Camden. Farley & Sons Inc. submitted the lowest bid at $210,900.

Work will start within the next two weeks, according to Falciani. Improvements include drainage under the Mechanic Street lot, fixing the retaining wall between the two lots, and adding a set of pedestrian stairs to the wall.

A mural for the concrete wall of a privately owned building on the south side of the lot is also moving forward, according to board member Marc Ratner. He said funds have been raised privately to pay for the mural.

The improvements were approved nearly three years ago at the 2017 town meeting, and were originally spurred by deterioration of a retaining wall on the west side of the lot. Afterward, a design was developed and bid out that included more green space, fewer parking spaces and a single entrance to the Mechanic Street lot.

The project stalled last March, when the lowest bid came in over budget, and town officials heard from businesses and individuals opposed to the new design. Opponents wanted the lots, located in the heart of downtown, to be paved, but otherwise, unchanged. Board members Alison McKellar and Jenna Lookner were strongly opposed to losing spaces and having a single entrance. Eventually the majority of board members agreed not to adopt a new design, which also resolved cost overrun issue.

Farley & Sons also secured the bid for improvements to water and sewer lines along the road on Norwood Avenue, with the low bid of $298,000.

Public hearings

Board members approved zoning changes for the June ballot. One change allows for the expansion of accessory apartments. Another combines the Business Transitional Zone into the Downtown Business District.

Martin presented proposed zoning changes. One change expands the use of accessory apartments from four to seven zoning districts and eliminates the requirement that the property owner has to live in the original dwelling on the property. Accessory apartments are small structures, and are allowed on lots not large enough to meet multi-family housing requirements. The proposed change allows both the accessory unit and the home on the property to be rented to others as a primary residence.

Martin said the change will increase housing affordability and availability. Benzie asked if short-term rentals were allowed. Martin said Planning Board members, who discussed the zoning change, felt strongly that housing availability does not mean more short-term rentals. However, primary residence is defined as six months plus one day, so those who live in the units could choose to rent short-term, according to local rules, if they are away, he explained.

Combining the Business Transitional Zone into the Downtown Business District will eliminate duplication in the ordinance. Martin said one of his goals is to improve the town's zoning ordinance, which "is very thick for a town this size. It has a lot of zones and each zone has a lot of ordinances."

He said uses in the two zones are nearly identical and lot development is nearly the same except for minimum lot size per dwelling unit. Martin has sent two letters to all property owners in the business transition zone informing them of the proposed change. He said he received comments back from one person, who also attended the Planning Board public hearing, who strongly supports the change.

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