May 19, 2013

Gas pipeline spurs Norridgewock to revisit shoreland zoning rules

'We want to be ready for the potential of economic recovery,' says Town Manager Michelle Flewelling

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

NORRIDGEWOCK — The town is considering revising an ordinance that protects wetlands in an effort to be friendlier to businesses, according to the town manager.

The changes would facilitate development, which is important especially as the town prepares for a natural gas pipeline to be installed, said Town Manager Michelle Flewelling. Colorado-based Summit Natural Gas plans to install a natural gas pipeline through the Kennebec Valley with construction set to start this year.

"We want to be ready for the potential of economic recovery. There are businesses that have been vacant because of the recession, and should they suddenly want to come back to life, we want to make it so they can," Flewelling said.

The town's shoreland zoning ordinance limits commercial development in some areas, but selectmen are proposing changes to town zoning maps so that areas along Skowhegan Road and Mechanic Street allow for more commercial development. The changes would make areas where now only limited residential development is allowed available for general use or limited commercial development, Flewelling said. It also would allow some older buildings to be updated, she said.

"As the economy changes and development is on the uptick, we see people wanting to do these things," she said.

One example is My Cousin's Place Restaurant, which was sold in 2012 to Deb Brown, of Norridgewock, after being vacant for years. Brown said she initially hoped to turn the building into a farmers' market and flea market, but that the ordinance prevented her from doing so. The former restaurant was run before the ordinance was passed, but a commercial use now is forbidden because the property was sold and it was vacant for more than a year, Flewelling said.

The town has allowed Brown to put offices in the space, but she hopes that if the ordinance changes, she can develop the space commercially.

"For business growth and the betterment of business in Norridgewock, it just makes sense," Brown said.

Robert Aubrey, of Skowhegan, also recently bought property along the Sandy River that includes an old hydroelectric plant formerly owned by Madison Electric Works. The building, a red brick structure dating to 1903, has been vacant for a few years, Aubrey said.

"I honestly don't know what I can legally do with it," he said, adding that because the building has been vacant for more than a year, the shoreland ordinance prohibits any changes being made to it.

Aubrey said he is meeting with a lawyer to figure out what the ordinance will allow him to do, but that he also might not have bought the land if he had known it would be so hard to use.

"In hindsight, I probably should have done more of an investigation prior to closing. On the other hand, though, people who buy properties should have the option to determine their use," he said.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection requires that all municipalities have in place laws to protect shoreland, areas that are within measured distances from bodies of water or wetland.

The department recommends that the town revise its ordinance to make it easier for property owners to determine what is allowed and to streamline requirements for developers, said Colin A. Clark, shoreland zoning coordinator for the Bureau of Land and Water Quality at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, in an email.

The changes would have limited to no effect on the environment because, if enacted, the standards for protecting resources would stay the same, he said. That includes standards on structure setbacks and the removal of vegetation, Clark said.

A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Thursday at the Town Office, and a vote on the changes is scheduled for June 11.

If the town approves them, the revised ordinance also will need to be reviewed by the department before it can take effect, Clark said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
rohm@mainetoday.com

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