FREEDOM – The ordinance that guides commercial development is on the chopping block less than a year after it was approved.
Voters will decide June 12 whether or not to repeal the Commercial Development Review Ordinance, which they approved in August of last year.
A public hearing to discuss the ordinance has been scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight at the Grange Hall.
The ordinance was developed in response to Portland-based Competitive Energy Services plans to install three electricity generating wind turbines on Beaver Ridge.
While the planning board approved the turbines, the board of appeals rejected the project in March after finding it failed to meet the noise levels and bonding requirements spelled out in the commercial development ordinance.
Competitive Energy has since filed an appeal in Waldo County Superior Court, but Glen Bridges, who organized the petition drive to force the June 12 vote, hopes the court action will be dropped if voters rescind the ordinance.
“The town passed the ordinance because they wanted the wind power project,” Bridges said. “They thought the ordinance would guide it. The town’s people never expected this to kill the project.”
Bridges said the ordinance’s shortcomings are too numerous to try to correct, but Steve Bennett, whose property abuts the Beaver Ridge site, and who has opposed the project, believes repealing the ordinance would leave the town wide open to any number of projects that residents would not favor. “They’re going to repeal the whole thing in order to eliminate any restrictions that have to do with turbines,” Bennett said. “It’s pretty irresponsible for any town not to have a commercial site review ordinance.”
Donald Berry of Belmont, a former legislator who has a long history of moderating town meetings, has been assigned as the facilitator in tonight’s meeting.
“I’m basically going to try to conduct this meting as we would a legislative hearing on this issue, those for and those against,” Berry said. “This is not a debate. It’s a hearing.”
The hearing, and the vote in June, are technically a referendum on the town’s ordinance and not the proposed wind project, but voters know the implications, Bridges said.
“We felt the town should have a right to vote on this, but it’s also an up or down vote on the wind project,” she said.
Officials at Competitive Energy did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment, but Bridges hopes the turbine project will move forward quickly if voters rescind the commercial development ordinance. Selectwoman Lynn Hadyniak said Competitive Energy would be free to resubmit its plans and would only need a building permit to begin construction.
“That’s my understanding, and so could any other business, anywhere, that wants to move into Freedom,” Hadyniak said.
Bridges wants the town to go back to the drawing board to write a new commercial site review ordinance.
“No one ever wanted an ordinance that would prevent businesses from locating in town, but that’s what we ended up with,” Bridges said.
Bennett said the ordinance is business friendly.
“Ninety-nine percent of the businesses we have in Freedom are home occupations and they are exempt from that ordinance,” Bennett said. “This ordinance is to protect the town from large commercial or industrial developments that could prove troublesome if they weren’t reviewed or regulated.”
By Craig Crosby
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
15 May 2007
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