2014-09-12 / Front Page

Workshop to address zoning confusion

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Riding on the coattails of confusion over contract zones following an unsuccessful proposal to build a boutique hotel in Lower Village, the planning board is planning to hold a workshop for residents.

In early August, David Bateman of Bateman Partners proposed the construction of a 17,000-square-foot hotel in a residential zone on the parcel adjacent to Federal Jack’s with an access point on Doanes Wharf Road.

Residents responded with acrimony to the proposal, blaming the town for allowing contract zoning in a residential area.

The opposition caused Bateman to withdraw his proposal almost immediately, and left residents simmering toward town officials.

“When does an applicant, who wants to create a new business zone in a residential area, get thrown out of the town hall by the back of their neck and told, ‘See ya later, folks. We’re not going to do (that) to the lovely people who live on Doanes Wharf Road who bought their property in a residential neighborhood?’” Pat Foley asked the planning board in August.

On Monday night, the planning board addressed the issue for the first time since the proposal.

Board members detailed the purpose and intent of contract zones before discussing ways to workshop with residents to help inform them understand how they are used.

A town is not obligated to allow contract zones or conditional-use zoning; however, if it chooses, the town is required to adhere to state standards, which, most notably, put the power of approving contract zones in the hands of the citizens.

“The purpose of the contract zone is to deal with unique, varied conditions for the use of properties that the contract worked to the benefit of the town as well as the landowner,” said Robert Metcalf, planning board member.

Contract zones have been utilized across Kennebunk for the past few years, said Town Planner Judy Bernstein.

Contract zone locations in town include the construction of a parking lot at Kennebunk Savings Bank, for the reuse of Cousins School as affordable housing, and the former location of River Tree Arts on Depot Street.

All of the town’s contract zones were presented under unique circumstances and approved only when there was a perceived “positive benefit to the community,” Metcalf said.

“When you’re looking at all these contract zones, there has to be a positive contribution to the community. Yes, a developer wants to come in and do something so they can make their project work, but there has to be a determined benefit that the community is going to gain from it,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf addressed the small crowd of people who attended Monday’s meeting: “I know why you’re all here, because of one other contract zone that came forward.”

“I’m just going to put it on the table — I’ve been doing this too damn long — I know there are issues of why it even got to us,” Metcalf said before reminding citizens sternly, “Anybody can submit an application to the town that’s in accordance of the zoning ordinance and the provisions that are allowed within the zoning ordinance.”

Town departments do not have the ability to turn away applicants if their proposals comply with the town’s standards, Metcalf said.

The respective boards review proposals at public meetings based on the merits of the application.

It is exclusively the residents’ decision, in an election, to approve a contract zone, Metcalf said.

Allowing for contract zones benefits a town, Metcalf said.

“No two pieces of property are identical.,” he said. “They may be zoned the same, but the use of those lands may not really fit what standards are established for that zone and there are constraints.

“Sometimes those constraints are such that they have taken away the right for someone to get some value back out of that property, and a contract zone provides one of those opportunities for someone to be able to develop a piece of property.”

Bernstein added that an applicant’s proposal for a contract zone has to include a plan that is better for the town than what previously existed on the land.

“One of the things we’ve found with our contract zoning is that, in order for someone who wants different zoning to apply and to be adopted by the town, they’ve got to provide a plan that’s better than the usual plan,” Bernstein said. “They know, that in order to propose a use that isn’t normally allowed in that particular location, and to amend our zoning to allow that use, they’ve got to provide a plan that’s going to lay it out better.”

The planning board agreed to continue to prepare material for the upcoming workshop, the date of which has yet to be determined.

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