China planners suggest ordinance amendment on board selections

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members met Oct. 22 with two possible ordinance changes on their agenda, amending the planning board ordinance to have members appointed rather than elected and trying to make one of the criteria for commercial development in the Land Use Ordinance easier to enforce.

Additionally, Codes Officer Bill Butler said the state Department of Environmental Protection notified him that sections of the town ordinance need to be revised to conform to state standards.

Butler suggested discussion of an appointed planning board. Appointment would reduce the work the elective process creates for town office staff, he said.

This year, for instance, there are three openings on the board and no candidates on the ballot for any of the positions. Two of the openings require the board member to live in one of China’s four planning board districts; the person who serves as the alternate can be from any part of town.

Voters are likely to write in names, some serious and appropriate, some who might serve competently but don’t live in the right district and some neither serious nor appropriate, like Donald Duck.

Town office staff record each name, tally the number of votes for each, make sure the votes are valid and get in touch with those with the most votes to find out whether they will serve.

Board member Jim Wilkens expressed several concerns about an appointed board. It might become a popularity contest, people without qualifications might be appointed and townspeople would have no direct say in the choice, he said.

Butler said would-be appointees would need to apply and selectmen (assumed to be the appointing group) would evaluate their qualifications.

Toni Wall also had doubts about appointments. Appointees might feel answerable to the selectboard, and they could be dismissed by selectmen, not voters, she said.

She suggested improvements to the election process, like posting signs asking voters not to write in anyone unless they had the candidate’s permission and an assurance she or he was willing to serve.

Based on her experience, Wall also recommended changing planning board terms from two years to five years, to give board members more time to learn their jobs.

Board members generally agreed that keeping the four planning board districts to ensure members came from different parts of town was valuable. Wilkens and Wall would like to see selectmen also elected from districts.

In August board members discussed at length ways to enforce the requirement that a commercial development not create undue noise (see The Town Line, Aug. 15, 2019). After a short discussion on Oct. 22, they decided by consensus not to recommend any change in the current ordinance.

Butler said state officials want a revised definition of “impervious surface” in China’s shoreland ordinance. He predicted the change would seriously limit enlarging small non-conforming buildings close to a water body and would not be popular.

China’s timber harvesting regulations are also out of line with state standards, he said.

Board members talked of having draft revisions ready for state review in the spring of 2020 in preparation for a November 2020 local vote.

The next regular planning board meeting has been rescheduled from the usual second Tuesday of the month to Tuesday, Nov. 19, to avoid conflicting with the Nov. 12 meetings of the selectboard (moved from the usual Monday due to the Nov. 11 Veterans Day holiday) and the Thurston Park Committee.


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