Zoning proposal gets second chance after tie vote

By Stephanie Grinnell | Jun 10, 2014

Camden — Acting on advice from town attorney Bill Kelly, the Planning Board on June 5 voted to schedule a new public hearing and vote on a special exception zoning change that could allow High Street bed and breakfasts to serve midday and evening meals to guests.

A public hearing May 15 resulted in a tie vote by the Planning Board, meaning the proposal was defeated and would not move forward. However, after the meeting adjourned, new information came to light about rules governing Planning Board tie votes, according to Planning Board Chairman Lowrie Sargent.

Because there were just four members participating in the public hearing and vote, rules state the applicant could request, or Planning Board members could suggest, postponing the vote to a time when the full compliment of the board is present. Sargent noted no members of the Board, nor the applicant, were aware of the rule at the time of the vote.

Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson concurred with Sargent's assessment and said, "This is what the rules say and we need to follow the rules." Later, he added that the Board can't change the rules based on what has been done in the past, rules that come to light must be applied as the board becomes aware of them.

"I am definitely in favor starting over rather than just voting," Planning Board member John Scholz said.

Windward House Bed and Breakfast owner Kristi Bifulco presented the Board with a proposal to allow several High Street B&Bs to serve meals to guests. Her proposal applies only to properties on High Street that already are considered special exceptions to zoning and are also within 500-feet of a zone that allows restaurants. According to previously published reports, there are only three properties that would be impacted by the special exception allowance, including Bifulco's.

She has argued serving dinner to her guests will give her another way to help sustain her business and maintain her historical building. Opponents have expressed concern the special exception will take paying customers away from other downtown businesses.

After some debate regarding the time frame for the public hearing, Board members set the meeting for Wednesday, July 2, at 5 p.m. in the Washington Street conference room. If all five Planning Board members are not present, Bifulco — or a member of the Board — may request the vote take place on another date, even if the public hearing takes place that night as scheduled.

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