Planners continue shoreland zoning discussions

by Mary Grow

The three China Planning Board members available to attend the July 27 meeting continued discussion of planned amendments to shoreland zoning regulations, but postponed a decision. The main stumbling block is the lot coverage question (see The Town Line, July 22, p. 2).

As board members pointed out, many of the old shoreland lots around China’s lakes are much smaller than current regulations allow. The current Land Use Ordinance says a lot in the shoreland (or stream protection or resource protection) district meets ordinance criteria if its area is at least 40,000 square feet, it has at least 200 feet of shore frontage and there is space to set structures at least 100 feet from the high-water line.

Owners of buildings on non-conforming lots (those failing to meet one or more requirements) may continue to use them. The ordinance allows some changes and expansions, within limits.

One limit is the amount of the lot that is covered by impervious surfaces, which do not absorb rainwater. China’s current ordinance says two things: parking areas and driveways do not count as impervious surfaces; and the lot-coverage limit is 15 percent.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will not approve the town ordinance unless driveways, parking areas and “other areas from which vegetation has been removed” are counted as impervious areas. DEP allows up to 20 percent lot coverage by impervious areas, a standard less strict than China’s.

Usually, if a large camp or house on a small lot covers 15 percent of the lot area, the owner cannot enlarge the building, add a shed or otherwise increase the impervious area.

If DEP’s additions are put into the ordinance, planning board members fear more shoreland owners will find themselves, through no fault or action of their own, over the 15 percent impervious-area limit and therefore unable to add the deck or build the garage they were planning.

Chairman Randall Downer said he tried to find from town records how many people might be affected and “the town does not have that information.”

One suggested way to minimize the effect on property-owners was to propose two ordinance amendments, enlarging the definition of impervious surface and simultaneously increasing the maximum allowable impervious surface from 15 percent to 20 percent.

After almost an hour’s discussion, board members tabled the issue to their Aug. 10 meeting. In the interim Downer and Codes Officer Jaime Hanson will check lot coverage regulations in comparable Maine towns.

After a shorter discussion, the three board members also tabled a final decision on the proposed alternative ways of treating solar panels, in terms of lot coverage. Part of the debate was over whether China should try to encourage or discourage solar development.

There appeared to be consensus that “green” solar energy is good. Potential effect on local landowners was the question: should farmers be encouraged to continue to grow, mow and sell hay? Should they be encouraged to sell or lease land to solar developers? Would strict regulations that discouraged development unfairly limit their freedom of choice?

Downer hopes all five planning board members will be able to attend the Aug. 10 meeting. Once they agree on one or more questions for voters, they intend to ask selectmen to put them on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Hanson’s biweekly report told board members that the number of permit applications has finally slowed, after several very busy months, and he is making progress on clearing the backlog. He has tried to act on applications based on applicants’ schedules, taking those who planned immediate construction ahead of those looking at fall projects, he explained.

 
 

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