September 25, 2013

Gardiner committee wants public's input on comprehensive plan

Public forum set for 6 p.m. Thursday at Gardiner Area High School

By Paul Koenig
Staff Writer

GARDINER — The committee crafting a long-term plan for the city wants feedback from residents about the major themes and ideas in the plan before it finalizes a draft of the document.

The public will have the chance to comment on major portions of the draft of the comprehensive plan at 6 p.m. Thursday at a public forum in the Gardiner Area High School cafeteria.

The plan has been developed over the course of the year as part of the Heart & Soul project — a two-year community planning project funded by a $100,000 grant from the Orton Family Foundation to create an updated comprehensive plan for the city. Gardiner last updated its plan in 1997.

Project volunteers conducted one-on-one interviews last fall with more than 100 residents about what they value in Gardiner and what they hope for in the future, according to Patricia Hart, city councilor and chairwoman of the Comprehensive Plan Committee. This year they held almost 10 public forums and discussions to gather and narrow down what people want for their city's future.

The 22 themes established by the committee with input from the public range from zoning changes to the desire to expand the Kennebec River Rail Trail into the downtown. Hart said Gardiner's plan will be broader than traditional comprehensive plans because of the amount of feedback the committee gathered with the help of the Heart & Soul project.

Comprehensive plans, as outlined in state law, focus on land use and planning issues. They can be used by city councils or other local officials when deciding on whether to change zoning or land use policies.

Hart said the Gardiner City Council has delayed decisions on a number of issues in the last two years to await direction from the plan.

"It is my hope that the council and future councils do use the comprehensive plan as a guide. We've had so much public input and feedback," she said.

A recent controversial issue on which councilors opted to not make any far-reaching decision was whether to change zoning rules to allow small livestock in residential districts.

At the time, some councilors said they wanted to wait for guidance from the comprehensive plan before potentially making changes to what's allowed in different zones.

After the Comprehensive Plan Committee approves the document, the Planning Board and the City Council plan to review it and hold public hearings. It's expected to be approved by council by the end of the year, Hart said.

Information about the meeting can be found on the city’s community website.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

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