Vassalboro planners approve one application, in part; discuss four other items

by Mary Grow

With only one application on their agenda, and the proposed – and long-discussed – solar ordinance forwarded to the select board, Vassalboro Planning Board members had time to consider broader issues at their April 4 meeting.

The application was from Duane Ellis, seeking to expand his building at 27 Birch Point Road, on Webber Pond. He asked to enlarge the building footprint by no more than 30 percent, on the side away from the water; and to raise part of the roof by three feet.

Planning board members unanimously approved the first part of the application.

They were unable to authorize raising the roof, because Vassalboro’s Shoreland Zoning Ordinance sets height limits in the shoreland and Ellis’s building already exceeds them. Board members advised Ellis that he can apply to the Vassalboro Board of Appeals for a variance from the height limit.

Ellis praised the helpful state Department of Environmental Protection staff member with whom he had discussed other issues on his lot.

Planning board member Douglas Phillips asked his colleagues to consider four issues: a possible new ordinance, effects of a new state law and two procedural planning board documents.

First, he asked, given the water quality problems in Webber Pond, should board members consider asking voters to adopt a Phosphorus Control Ordinance, like the one China has had since 1993?

Part of the discussion of procedures at the April 4 Vassalboro Planning Board meeting covered the timing of submission of applications. Board members agreed that anyone wanting to be on a planning board agenda must submit an application to codes officer Robert Geaghan at least two weeks in advance.

Any application to be considered at the board’s May 2 meeting should be on Geaghan’s desk by Tuesday, April 18, at the latest.

The rationale is two-fold: Geaghan can review the application in time to distribute the agenda to board members by April 25, to give them a week to consider it; and he can forward the agenda to Vassalboro’s webmaster in time to get it on the website a week before the meeting.

(A copy of the China ordinance, chapter four of the town’s Land Use Ordinance, is on the website, under the heading Ordinances, Policies and Orders.)

A reason to consider such an ordinance is that Vassalboro still has undeveloped land around water bodies; requiring management of run-off should mean new development would not worsen water quality. But, board chairman Virginia Brackett asked, would it do enough good to matter?

Brackett suggested board members start with a review of Vassalboro’s strategic plan, adopted 17 years ago this June, instead of considering ordinances individually.

Phillips said he will ask Town Manager Aaron Miller if the opinion survey to be mailed out this summer with tax bills could include questions from the planning board – like whether residents would like a phosphorus control ordinance — if members choose to develop some.

Phillips’ second issue, on which board alternate member Dan Bradstreet (Waterville’s codes enforcement officer) had information, was the recent state law allowing more than one dwelling unit on a single-family lot. Designed to help alleviate the affordable housing shortage, Bradstreet said it is now in the rule-making stage, and is to take effect in July.

Right now, he said, “nobody knows what to do.” The law is complex, confusing and in places self-contradictory; the relationship to lot size and plumbing code requirements is unclear; even Maine Municipal Association attorneys with whom he talked “can’t agree on the meaning.”

Phillips had been reviewing old planning board documents and had questions about two. He recommended that board members review application forms to make sure they are complete. And he asked about a document called planning board rules of order.

Brackett commented that her copy of the rules is “so old it’s typewritten.”

In the past, planning board members served five-year terms, instead of the present two years; and at some point there were two alternate members, instead of one.

Board members thought two-year terms all right, but agreed to ask the select board to appoint a second alternate member. Their goal is to have one more resident well informed about board responsibilities and history.

Brackett thinks Vassalboro is in a minority of Maine municipalities whose planning board members are appointed rather than elected. She and Phillips approve of appointed members. They said election risks a complete membership turnover and a lack of consistency.

The next regular Vassalboro Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, May 2.


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