ELLWORTH — Planning Board members and city staff returned to an ongoing debate at the board’s March 4 meeting, discussing which projects should come before the board for consideration and which can be handled by staff.
The discussion involved which building and development projects constitute “major use” versus “minor use.”
City staff and board members have struggled to come to a consensus on which projects are referred to code enforcement and which are required to follow the more extensive Planning Board process. The ordinance currently reads that if a project is 5,000 square feet or goes over 5,000 square feet in a five-year time period, then it must be reviewed by the Planning Board.
Board Vice Chairman John DeLeo argued that there should not be a five-year time limit and that projects should have to come before the Planning Board if they go over 5,000 feet or if a later addition increases the square footage over 5,000.
“Is there any particular reason why there’s the timeframe involved?” he asked.
DeLeo then referenced a storage unit facility that was recently built on Boggy Brook Road, estimating that the project was 4,950 square feet.
“Obviously, that’s to avoid coming to Planning Board, in my mind,” he said. “[The developer] can add another 5,000 square feet in five years and never come before the Planning Board. Something is wrong with that picture.”
Code Enforcement Officer Dwight Tilton explained that the 5,000-square-foot figure started as a recommendation from City Council.
“When I first came here, my limit was 1,500 square feet,” he said, recalling that the decision to increase the threshold was the result of the Planning Board growing busier with reviewing projects.
“We have no personal issues any way this goes,” Tilton said. “All I ask is we have to follow procedure,” adding that if changes to an ordinance are to be made, a motion would have to come before the Planning Board and then taken to City Council.
Janna Richards, who oversees the city’s Planning and Economic Development Department, explained the reasoning behind the current wording of the ordinance.
She posed the question, “[If there is] no increase in the intensity of use [for a project] I think the mindset is, why are we burdening someone with coming before the Planning Board?” She said the code enforcement office still performs a review process and considers whether projects will cause disturbances to neighbors and the surrounding environment.
The discussion was prompted by the construction of Convenient MD Urgent Care, the walk-in clinic being built where the First National Bank previously stood on High Street. The clinic is 5,350-square-foot facility, but the application did not go before the Planning Board. Staff determined the project was a 2,100-square-foot expansion of the footprint of the former bank, even though the bank had been demolished prior to construction.
“This sounds like something that needs to be workshopped between staff and the board, not something that needs to keep coming up at board meetings” Richards recommended. “I think this is something that we need to actually sit down with the ordinance in front of us.”
“I think that’s terrific,” said Planning Board Chairman John Fink.