MET zoning, parking and charter changes go to November vote

By Susan Mustapich | Sep 07, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Public hearings were held Sept. 4 on issues approved for the November ballot by the Select Board.

CAMDEN — Select board members voted Sept. 4  to place on the November ballot proposed changes to Camden's Town Charter, a zoning change to allow reuse of the Mary E. Taylor building, and a limited change to off-street parking rules.

Public hearings were held on all of the proposals. Recently retired select board member John French, who was the only member of the public to speak, turned out to comment on proposed changes to Camden's Town Charter.

Town Charter

The select board voted to send four proposed changes to the town charter to a November vote: adding flexibility in setting the annual town meeting date, which currently must occur the day following the vote at the polls; changing the term for planning board members from the current five years to three years; changing the annual compensation stipends for Wastewater Commissioners by vote at town meeting from the stated figure of $500 to an unspecified amount to be determined by voters; and reducing the number of required signatures on nomination papers for any elected position that appears on a written ballot from the current 75 signatures to 25 signatures.

The board voted unanimously not to place on the November ballot a proposal to limit to the number of members appointed to the budget committee “to not less than 13 and not more than 17." The current minimum is 21 members and maximum 25 members.

French was the only member of the public to speak at the public hearing.

He suggested it is time to consider creating a commission to revise the town charter. He said there were restrictions on making substantial changes to the charter, and that the five suggested changes this year, and other changes made in the recent past, were adding up. He mentioned that a charter commission is made up of members elected by the community in a general election.

He called the town charter “the citizens' document," which spells out what the select board and town manager can do, and how the town operates. He said he wants to "make sure the citizens are still driving the bus."

He believes that holding town meeting the day after elections is best. He questioned whether moving the meeting to Saturday would improve attendance. He spoke in favor of maintaining up to 25 members on the budget committee. While it can be difficult to go through the budget process with 25 people, he said, “when it works well those 25 people on the budget committee are talking to people around town and getting the information out about the budget and what the town is doing.”

Board Member Alison McKellar also supports the larger budget committee. She believes the purpose of the committee “is more about confidence in local government, learning about the process, and transparency.” “It's the ultimate initiation to town government,” she said.

Looker said after speaking to members of the budget committee, she is not comfortable with reducing the number of members.

Ratner believes reducing the number of committee members would produce fewer opinions and less feedback.

Falciani does not think a 25-member committee is effective, but agreed the change in number of members would be a substantive change to the town charter. He made a motion that the proposal not be moved to the November ballot, but attached to a future evaluation of the entire town charter. Board members approved the motion not to place the proposal on the November ballot 4-0.

McKellar believes many do not go to town meeting because it occurs around the last day of school, and conflicts with events families plan at that time of the year. She suggested a Saturday might draw better attendance, especially if child-care is provided.

Ratner does not favor Saturday town meetings, which he sees as family time, and believes the change might lower attendance. “Keep it right after the vote, so these issues are on people's minds,” he said. Board members voted 3-1 to place the proposal for flexibility in setting the town meeting date on the ballot, with Ratner against.

Board members voted unanimously to move proposals to voters to determine the annual compensation for wastewater commissioners and to reduce the number of signatures needed on nomination papers for elected positions. They voted 3-1 to place on the ballot the proposal to reduce planning board terms to three years. Ratner, who serves as liaison to the planning board, voted against moving this charter change to voters, stating that "long term memory" and "continuity" are beneficial to this board.

Mary E. Taylor building

Board members voted unanimously to place on the ballot a zoning change to facilitate the reuse of the Mary E. Taylor building by allowing commercial uses currently permitted in the nearby Neighborhood Business District (B4) in "publicly owned public schools in use as of 2018," but only after a review by the zoning board of appeals.

The MET building is located in the Traditional Village District, which prohibits commercial uses on the school property. The proposed zoning change allows 30 new commercial uses, by special exception, in the MET building, including professional offices, health-services facilities, financial services, personal services and tradesmen shops.

Select board members agreed it was not necessary to add language strongly recommended by the planning board to make the zoning change contingent on voter approval of SAD 28's plan for a $4.89 million renovation of the building.

McKeller supports the zoning amendment for a public vote, but believes it is written in a way that is difficult to understand, as a result of excessive concerns about “what-ifs” and “worst case scenarios.” She emphasized that nothing can go in the building that the school board does not think should be next to a school. She asserts that school board members are elected by residents, and can be trusted with this responsibility. McKellar is a member of SAD 28's MET Repurposing Committee, and preferred the committee's proposal to rezone the entire 15-acre school property to B4.

Off-site parking changes

No members of the public spoke during a public hearing on a zoning change to off-street parking requirements in three downtown business districts. The changes reduce the number of spaces required for multi-family residential units from two to one per unit, and in congregate and senior housing where parking requirements “far exceed the actual need.”

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell explained the changes only apply to a few properties in the Knox Mill, “which has more parking than what is needed.” The town is negotiating a lease purchase of parking lots at the Knox Mill, she said. The parking is not used and not currently available to the public. The zoning change and parking lot lease is part of a plan to significantly increase public parking in downtown Camden.

Lookner said as a renter in a walkable residential area near downtown, she believes that when multiple people live in an apartment, “having one space is a real bummer,” especially in conjunction with the parking ban from November to April. She called the combination “tremendously inconvenient.” However, she said she would support moving the amendment to a public vote, because she sees the bigger picture.

Ratner said he attended all of the planning board meetings where this was discussed and supports the change.

Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin believes that winter parking bans should be reviewed. Falciani informed board members that he added this issue to a list of future agenda items.

Board members approved the proposed off-site parking changes for the November ballot.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Barbara Dyer | Sep 08, 2018 22:03

Now the  School Board wants the MET building and have all control of its uses.  That is fine, BUT they are stating it will cost much more  money to  get it ready, than people who have worked on brick buildings said it would cost .  With the high renovation price the School Board has now placed on it, will the voters feel they can afford that  and the price of the new building for 6th, 7th and 8th grades? Yes, I wish to save the Mary E. Taylor  building, but will the voters feel  they can't afford it? With every news release, prices go higher on the Knowlton Street building project,

Barbara F. Dyer


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