At a public hearing in Newry Monday that featured a proposed wind ordinance, much of the debate centered on another proposed ordinance – one that would require most building or remodeling projects worth $1,000 or more to have a permit.
Under the proposal the $1,000 level would not apply to the installation of carpet, paint or paper. Permits would cost $10.
Losing out on tax money
Since 2009 the threshold for requiring a permit for new construction has been $2,500, and the threshold for remodeling projects $25,000.
But that has meant the town has been missing out on added tax value, according to Code Enforcement Officer Dave Bonney.
The town’s tax assessor uses permits as a reference to find out when to update home values, Bonney said. Without that information and added value, he said, “the rest of our taxes are going up because we’re not finding all the improvements that are being made in town.”
He said that before the 2009 ordinance went into effect, 60 percent of permits issued were for projects under $25,000, and of those, 37 percent were for remodeling work.
Planning Board member Pat Roma, who proposed the 2009 ordinance levels, said he thought $1,000 was too low.
Under the proposal a reroofing or kitchen counter project could require a permit.
As a compromise Roma suggested a $10,000 threshold for remodeling.
“It depends on the tolerance level the town wants to lose on taxes,” replied Bonney. He said that when the $1,000 level was in place before, “it worked pretty well.”
Another resident suggested $2,500 for all projects.
The value of the projects would include labor, Bonney said, and in the case of do-it-yourself work the hourly rate would be figured at minimum wage.
Townspeople will likely vote on the ordinance change at a special town meeting, yet to be scheduled.
The 15 people attending Monday’s hearing also heard information on proposals for a wind ordinance and a new Newry Conservation Commission.
Under the wind ordinance proposal, because of a combination of the town’s development district restrictions and the impracticality of locating wind sites in valleys, the top of Sunday River’s Barker Mountain would be the only place that would qualify for a wind power project, according to town officials.
That wasn’t restrictive enough for Paula and Herb Gross, who expressed their concern about possible negative health effects.
A project on Barker “personally would be a problem for me. I can see it from my house,” said Herb. He said he was worried about the effects of “flicker” shadowing from the blades.
But Jarrod Crockett of Bethel, an attorney, noted that setback requirements from the abutting Bingham Trust land would likely prevent wind towers from being erected on the Barker summit.
“There will never be development to the high point of Barker Mountain,” he said. “Your setback would be such that you could never get to the top of the mountain,” he said, because the trust land reaches to the summit. “It’s like a conservation easement,” said Crockett.
Selectman Jim Largess said he favored allowing wind projects in the low-lying General Development District, in case future technology makes towers feasible there.
Roma disagreed. “We should deal with what we know, not what might happen in the future. We could revisit it if needed.”
Steve Wight said he believed there would be new technology in 20 years, but that it would likely be something other than wind power.
Wight was the presenter on a proposal to formally create a Newry Conservation Commission.
The ordinance proposal stipulates the commission would serve an advisory role to selectmen in matters relating to land use issues, research “local land areas and develop an index of all open areas, whether publicly or privately owned, including wetlands and designated habitats, for the purpose of obtaining and sharing information relating to their protection, development or use.”
He said the commission would be made up of people interested in looking at conservation issues in town.
He gave the example of the state’s “Beginning with Habitat” program, which provides information and maps as guidance for towns regarding the location and character of wildlife habitat within their borders.
Wight noted that other town committees had seen presentations on the program, “but now it sits on a shelf. We haven’t got to a point where we can use it as a filter, so when somebody comes to the Planning Board and says ‘this is where I want to develop,’ the Planning Board can say, ‘let’s lay the habitat map over what you’ve got here, and see what you have to avoid. That’s the kind of thing I think should be happening at a pre-application conference, so we know where our habitats are, and what we can do to work with them and not destroy them. It’s not meant to stop development, just to be smart about development.
“It could lead to an open-space ordinance. If the commission wished and selectmen agreed, they could create a potential ordinance for use of open space in the town. I’m sure that would be interesting and somewhat controversial on private lands, but it would also be instructive and show us where our conservation lands are.”
Wight also said that should land be donated to the town for conservation/recreation purposes, the commission could be tasked with managing it.
Crockett, a member of the Bethel Conservation Commission, supported the idea of a similar group in Newry. He noted that the BCC is providing input to Bethel in determining future recreation uses for the 2,300-acre Bingham Trust land, which is located in Newry. “It would be nice to have input from the town of Newry,” he said.
A fourth ordinance item presented Monday would allow the Planning Board to request a pre-application hearing with applicants for major subdivision and site plan review projects.
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