News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 14, 2013
Castine Selectmen plan more evening meetings

by Sharon Bray

The Board of Selectmen held the first in a planned series of evening meetings February 4, specifically to discuss an update for land use ordinances.

Nine citizens attended the 7 p.m. meeting—most of whom previously and often attended afternoon meetings.

Selectmen Peter Vogell (chairman), Gus Basile and David Unger decided to hold their first of two regular monthly meetings at 7 p.m. March 4 and possibly every month until August to encourage more public participation.

The board is working on a version of “a basic” ordinance to present at town meeting June 1. Town Manager Dale Abernethy summarized the process starting with the November 2012 voter acceptance of a revised subdivision ordinance and rejection of a broader zoning ordinance. Margins of both votes were narrow, and Abernethy said he is not convinced the votes were based so much on ordinance content as other issues. Many people, he said, objected to the vote being held in the fall instead of at open town meeting in the spring.

Abernethy described a new “baseline” ordinance recently posted on the town’s website as a “more benign version than the one defeated.”

A zoning subcommittee of the town’s now-disbanded Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee had worked every week for months to revise the ordinance to bring it into compliance with stated goals of the comprehensive plan. The committee also worked with Abernethy to bring town rules up to state standards.

Before the November vote, selectmen worked with Abernethy and the committee to remove parts of the proposed update that they considered to be controversial.

The 2013 version should be even less controversial, Abernethy said.

Vogell said selectmen plan to hold more meetings when summer residents are in town. He said he anticipates a special town meeting in August to act on ordinance amendments.

The town office, Vogell said, received two email comments so far, both from Doug Koos, who objected to changing required lot sizes since no one had objected to the way they are now.

Monday night Gordon MacArthur urged selectmen to “please consider some place in town for commercial development…” and to avoid making “the town into a museum.”

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing before another vote, according to former zoning subcommittee chairman Bob Friedlander.

“We have to make sure the public’s level of understanding is high enough so they know what they are voting for,” commented Unger.

Selectmen also took up a couple of items related to the waterfront.

Abernethy told them that action on using a Small Harbor Improvement Project grant has been delayed as the harbor committee looks into alternatives to a lift the town was planning to install to help fishermen and others using the town dock.

“A potential user” of the lift they had planned “didn’t like that kind,” Abernethy said. The committee does not yet have cost figures for a lift the “user” prefers. Whatever they do, Abernethy told selectmen, will have to cost no more than the grant plus money currently available in a harbor fund.

The town manager also recommended hiring an engineer to review a structural evaluation of the town dock. He said the last evaluation done in 1998 had not included the Acadia dock.

A new inspection would have to include diving to inspect the “mudline” and posts underwater, added Vogell.

Repairs and upgrades to bring the docks up to state code may be costly, Abernethy said. Voters could be asked to approve the project at town meeting and postpone work on the docks until 2014.

In continued discussion of what to do with the now-vacant lighthouse keeper’s house, Abernethy said he had a local contractor “walk through and make recommendations.” Electrical and other work would have to be done to meet state safety regulations if the town is going to rent the house. Other work would cost “at least $30,000 to make the place acceptable to the public.”

Suggestions to remove floor registers and other work “would take away from the historic value” of the house, said Basile.

Arnold Berleant urged selectmen to “preserve historic features and fixtures.”

A letter from business owner Jack Burke also urged preservation of the building’s history, especially as a draw for tourists.

The Castine Arts Association asked for and received permission to use the town common at the start of a Plein Air Festival Saturday, July 27.

Local artist Dan Graziano explained the concept of “plein air” painting “in the open” using field easels in contrast to studio painting. The quick, small paintings, he said, were used by artists before photographs were available. Changes in light and weather affect how fast the plein air painter must work to complete a small picture.

If this year’s festival is successful, said Graziano, the association could conduct a multi-day version in future years.

Abernethy stated that the town office will be closed for routine business Thursday and Friday, February 7 and 8, as the town clerk and finance officer will be out of town.

He also urged public patience as parts of Emerson Hall may be closed for short times while interior renovations are completed.