2018-07-06 / Front Page

Board punts on strategic proposal

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Selectmen in Kennebunk have agreed to wait out completion of the town’s new comprehensive plan — a document in progress since January 2016 and not expected to go before before voters until June 2019 — before adopting any strategic plan of their own.

The board took up the issue at their June 26 meeting at the behest of Selectman Ed Karytko, who said he was motivated by the recent election of former selectman Wayne Berry back to the table. Berry cited the need for a strategic plan before and during his campaign, remarks Karytko deemed “very appropriate.”

“We seem to lack a clear, concise vision on who we are and how we are to move forward as a town,” Berry said of the need, in his candidate’s survey, published in the May 18 issue of the Post.

But this is not the first time selectmen have have eyed a long-term vision for the town.

“We’ve had this in fits and starts probably as long as I’ve been on the board,” said Selectman Christopher Cluff, who is starting his fifth year on the board.

Cluff said that in the most recent conversations on the topic, the board had elected to wait until after adoption of the town’s new comprehensive plan.

Although he said the timeline might be “maybe a little overly aggressive,” Town Manager Mike Pardue said “there is some hope” of getting the new plan before voters as early as the general election this November. Still, he acknowledged, a June 2019 vote is more realistic.

For that to happen, the new plan will have to be completed and all of the required public hearings before both the planning board and selectmen held by mid-September, the deadline to approve the warrant and have early-voting absentee ballots ready 45 days before the election, as mandated by state law.

“I think to at least talk in a short-term frame of mind might not be a bad thing to do,” Karytko said. “I don’t envision changing the world, but if we don’t see the comp plan review voted on until next June, which might be a likelihood, we should at least know where we are going for the next year. I think (selectboard) decisions would be made a lot easier if we set some parameters.”

Selectman Blake Baldwin described himself as a “johnny-one-note” on the need for a strategic plan, noting it was a primary campaign plank of his own during his own election run two years ago. However, he said the cart of any strategic plan concocted by selectmen needs to be pulled by the pony of an overall unifying comprehensive plan.

“The last thing in the world we want to do is to come up with two different plans and then try to reconcile them,” he said.

According to Betsy Smith, who represents the Lower Village Committee on the 12-person Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance Update Committee, the bulk of the work on that plan is largely done.

“Having written five of the chapters, they’re brilliant,” she joked, drawing a laugh from selectmen. “But seriously, there’s just a lot of really good meaty material in there,” she said, noting that with the first draft complete, the committee is now entering an “issues and implications” period of review and editing.

Pardue said he could reach out to committee chairman Robert Metcalf, who also chairs the town planning board, and get draft chapters for selectmen to review.

Baldwin said it might be unwise for selectmen to offer feedback too early in the process.

“We have the luxury of waiting to do this right,” he said. “We’ve waited long enough for the comp plan committee to finish its work and it would almost be like walking through wet cement for us to weigh in at this point.

“I would rather see the report finished and brought to us as a complete opus, and then have us go through the process of reviewing it, rather that have us piecemeal it in its present format,” Baldwin said. “We do have the cart before the horse, but we’ve effectively abdicated our strategic planning to this other group.”

“I just worry that if they bring it to us in a pretty little bow, and then we start picking it apart, they are going to get awfully mad at us,” Cluff said.

Baldwin said giving feedback too early might create a public relations nightmare for the board, especially if that guidance significantly alters what has been done to date.

“I’ve often said this town runs on Dunkin’ and rumor,” Baldwin said. “If it gets out that we are heading down a path that is unexpected, then we may have poisoned the well before the horse gets to drink from it.”

The comp plan committee was originally created by selectmen in November 2015 for what was then expected to be a short sprint at updating a document last adopted by voters in November 2003 and most recently amended in November 2011.

In a Jan. 11, 2016, introductory letter to newly appointed committee members, then-economic development director Mat Eddy included a timeline that called on the new plan to be ready for voters by June 2017.

Since then, Eddy has resigned and been replaced on an interim basis by Jim Black, while Town Planner Judy Bernstein has retired and been replaced by John Stoll. And, of course, the town swapped out managers, trading Barry Tibbetts for Pardue, since the comp plan process started. Meanwhile, the committee has turned over half of its four community representatives since starting work.

Although the Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act of 1988 does not absolutely require that a municipal comprehensive plan be updated once per decade, it gives the effective period of the mandated state-approved plan at 10 years.

Karytko suggested that even if selectmen wait out voter approval of an updated comp plan to draft their own strategic plan, there might be value in meeting to work out more immediate details, such as staffing needs at the highway garage. It may be an opportune time for that discussion, he said, given the June 15 resignation of public services director Eric Labelle.

“That’s tactical,” Baldwin said, suggesting that the comprehensive plan will not drill down to that level of nuts-and-bolts detail.

However, no more was said on the topic — apart from Pardue agreeing with Karytko that some items of a logistical nature could be discussed at some future point.

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

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