China planners shift gears on ordinance amendments

by Mary Grow

CHINA, ME — China Planning Board members have abandoned their plan to have three ordinance amendments presented to voters at the June 14 town business meeting.

After hearing objections and suggestions at a March 22 public hearing, they voted unanimously to leave the record open for written comments for two weeks and to reconsider parts of the proposed changes.

Their next chance for a town vote will be Nov. 8.

The proposed changes are to Chapter Two of the China Land Use Ordinance, which includes the principal regulations; Chapter 11 of the ordinance, definitions; and Chapter Eight, now unused, slated to become a “Solar Energy Systems Ordinance.”

The ordinance sections are on the town website, china.govoffice.com, under the Elections tab.

Comments on the draft documents should be emailed to codes officer Jaime Hanson at ceo@chinamaine.org, or mailed or delivered to the town office, 571 Lakeview Drive, China ME 04358, marked Att. CEO. Comments must be received by Friday, April 8.

Most of the Chapter Two changes are required by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which has so far given China’s ordinance only conditional approval. Chapter 11 changes are partly DEP requirements and partly for the new solar ordinance. Board members added Chapter Eight to define standards specifically for solar panels.

Most of the discussion at the hearing was over lot coverage by man-made constructs. State and town ordinances limit the percentage of a lot that can be covered. In China, the limit is 15 percent in three protected zones, shoreland (the focus of the discussion), stream protection and resource protection, and 20 percent in the rural zone.

Specifically, China’s ordinance has said for years that no more than 15 percent of a lot in the shoreland zone can be covered by “structures of all types.” It adds that “Impervious surfaces, driveways, parking areas, etc. do not apply to lot coverage.”

DEP required the last sentence be eliminated. The proposed new wording says, “non-vegetated surfaces shall not exceed a total of fifteen (15%) percent of the portion of the lot located within the shoreland zone. For the purposes of calculating lot coverage, non-vegetated surfaces include, but are not limited to the following: structures, driveways, parking areas, and other areas from which vegetation has been removed.”

The point of the limit is to minimize run-off into water bodies from development that pre-dates land use ordinances. Because of its history of poor water quality, China Lake is of particular concern.

The owner of a shoreland lot whose impervious surfaces (including structures) reach or exceed 15 percent cannot expand them. The proposed change, if approved by town voters as it stands, would increase the amount of a lot already covered, since driveways and parking areas would count.

The increase in lot coverage, said residents Brent Chesley and Michael “Mickey” Wing, would mean people who planned to add a deck or a patio or a car-cover would have to abandon their plan. Wing added that the effect might be the opposite of protective; for example, if someone wanted to move a garage farther away from the water, with a longer driveway, the driveway, and hence the relocation, might no longer be allowable.

Speakers said that China’s lot coverage requirements are stricter than the state’s. State regulations allow up to 20 percent in protected districts and 30 percent in rural districts, they said. They agreed that protecting China Lake’s water quality is necessary, environmentally and to maintain property values and the town’s tax base.

Former codes officer Scott Pierz pointed to difficulties deciding what an impervious area is. For example, does a woodpile count?

Depends, Planning Board Chairman Scott Rollins replied. If it sits in the same place for years, it should, but a temporary woodpile shouldn’t. Leaving some things to the codes officer’s discretion is unavoidable, in his opinion.

Chesley and others suggested other issues planning board members should address – for example, Chesley found a direct contradiction between two ordinance sections that had not been addressed. He objected both to the shoreland restrictions and to the 20 percent maximum lot coverage requirement in the rural area, recommending an increase to 30 percent.

China Lake Association President Stephen Greene commended planning board members for their hard work and transparency. He considers the balance between development and lake protection difficult to determine and maintain; there is “no perfect solution,” he said.

Other speakers asked whether the planning board should have given two weeks’ notice of the public hearing, and whether the town attorney had reviewed the proposed ordinances. Codes Officer Jaime Hanson said China ordinances do not require notice for this type of hearing. Rollins said if Town Attorney Amanda Meader has not reviewed all proposed changes, she will be asked to before they are deemed final.

A digression onto septic systems in the shoreland led to Hanson saying that a recent Maine law requires a septic system inspection as a condition of any transfer of ownership. Not even all realtors are aware of the requirement yet, he said; and it applies to all transfers, not just to sales.

The next regular China Planning Board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 12.

 
 

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