2018-01-18 / News

Neighboring town says no to pot sales

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

ARUNDEL — At a special town meeting Jan. 8, voters in Arundel stepped in where the town planning board had refused to act, to specifically allow doggy day cares to operate in town, but also made it harder to set up a retail marijuana shop in town.

The pot change, which passed by a slim two-vote margin, was one of four zoning changes put before voters. In two other votes, residents approved changes to the structure of application fee for site plan review applications to the planning board, and rejected amendments to how the town regulates landscaping of new developments.

Nearly 45 people attended the meeting, held at the Mildred L. Day School, just prior to that evening’s regularly scheduled selectmen’s meeting.

The doggy day care vote was the result of a citizens’ petition signed by 200 registered voters, filed by Limerick Road Kristin Woodward after she ran into roadblocks getting her project past the planning board.

Woodward circulated her petition following a Sept. 14 pre-application meeting with the planning board, at which she hoped to gain final approval for a pet day care center, to be called Rontu’s Run Dog Daycare, next to her existing riding stable at 496 Limerick Road.

“I’ve been trying to get this going now for a year and a half,” Woodward said at an October selectmen’s meeting. “I have been trying to comply with the planning board and they just keep throwing more and more at me, a lot of which seems to be unreasonable. I just feel like they are asking a lot of something that should be real simple.”

Woodward — who was made to re-do her drive way, among other reported planning board mandates — said she circulated her petition to eliminate the final insurmountable “roadblocks” to her new business venture.

“I just really feel like I’ve been banging my head against the wall,” she said. “Every time I go before the [planning] board, it’s ‘OK, now you have to do this.’ I do that and then it’s, ‘now you have to do this.’ It’s just been ongoing. I’d like to be able to start, but it just feels like it’s never going to happen unless something changes.”

Town Planner Tad Redway said the planning board never received a “full application” from Woodward, meaning it was never in a position to approve her project and could only react to those potions of it she put before them, as she presented them. The planning board recommended against adopting her requested ordinance changes. However, those on hand voiced support for doing whatever they could to encourage and support new businesses in town.

The new ordinance, which will apply as conditional uses allowed the town’s residential districts, and which Woodward claimed she needed in order to gain final planning board approval, relaxes what certifications are needed by employees of a doggy day care; eliminates property line setback requirements for outdoor areas of a dog care operation; reduces the minimum height of required fencing, while also altering the required design of any privacy screening; and, allows for on- site composting of dog waste and is less restrictive in its defi- nition of waste containers.

Finally, the new ordinance says all local regulations “shall follow closely with those of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Animal Welfare Program and certification rules for dog day care in Maine, and owners/ operators must show proof of a satisfactory state inspection.” At an earlier meeting, some selectmen voiced reservations on this section, based on comments made by Town Clerk Simone Boissonneault, who said she found it hard to determine just what those state regulations might be. However, selectmen agreed the proposal should go on the town meeting warrant exactly as signed off on by petitioners.

Among the zoning ordinance amendments, the one specifically cited as applying to marijuana actually says that any land use not specifically identified as permissible, is prohibited. In other words, a use is no longer considered OK just because the town does not have specific language to outlaw it.

If the use is not mentioned, either as an activity automatically permitted within a zoning district, or as a conditional use requiring planning board approval, then it is a no-go. The new language singles out retail marijuana functions, legalized by a statewide vote in November 2016, saying such activities are not allowed unless on the list of what is permitted within a certain area. Redway pointed out that the vote does not impact medical marijuana, which has previously approved for certain zoning districts in town, although it does reinforce that medical marijuana cannot be grown commercially except in area specifically allowed.

The vote on the “omitted uses” rule was close, passing by two votes, 23-21.

Less of a nail-bitter — and drawing no question or comment from the crowd — was the proposal to alter the application fee schedule. The change eliminates mention of planning board application fees — which range from $50 to $500, as cited in eight different sections of the land use ordinance. Instead, the amendment substitutes language stating that the various costs will be set by selectmen in the fee schedule they set annually. This change allows selectmen to amend the fees from time to time in the future without having to call for a special town meeting to approve each new price hike, or other dollar alteration.

The new rules also specify that in addition to the permit fees set by selectmen, applicants for subdivision review must bear the cost of any professional peer reviews required by the planning board in order to properly vet a project.

The only warrant article rejected by voters was done by a convincing show of hands.

The proposal would have eliminated all landscaping rules and replaced them with three pages of new language, applicable to all projects requiring planning board review, excepting only single-family residential projects, agricultural uses, municipal activities, and small “home occupation” businesses.

The new rules were designed to “visually blend” any proposed project into “the vegetative and topographic character of the surrounding area or neighborhood.” Among the requirements were mandates to preserve, wherever possible, stands of mature trees and to require use of plants selected for cold-weather hardiness from a planting list to be submitted along with a required landscape plan.

Voters seemed less concerned with the degree to which new development projects were to be shielded from the view of neighbors than proposed rules applying to parking lots. Those changes would have mandated that a “curbed, planted island” be installed at the end of every parking row and at every 120 feet along any row of cars. Standards were also codified for the type, planting size, planting distance, and mature height, of trees the planning board could call on to be placed along streets.

Redway said the intent of the change was to consolidate and clarify existing rules. In essence, where Woodward had complained of a seemingly endless stream of thou-shalts from planning board, the new landscaping and buffering rules would have made it clear to developers when the planning board had reached the limit of its ability to require additional tweaks.

“Before it was loosey goosey,” he said. “This provides insurance to the applicant that if they’ve done this, they’ve met the goal.”

Some town meeting voters took issue with a raised concern regarding the lack of a concrete definition within the proposal for just what qualified as a parking lot subject to oversight. And while the new rules were very clear on exactly how much of a visual barrier the town could demand be installed between properties, it was less exact, some felt, on precisely where and when those mandates might be triggered.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennenbunkpost.com.

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