NEWRY – It was standing room only at Monday night’s special town meeting as one of the largest crowds in memory approved two proposed ordinances and defeated two others.
“We had 81 voters and I think that’s the most we’ve ever had, even at the annual town meeting,” Administrator Loretta Powers said Tuesday. “It was packed. We had a heck of a turnout.”
The meeting was held at the town office because only 20 showed up at the public hearing last month in the much larger Bear River Grange hall, she said.
Selectman Wendy Hanscom was elected moderator.
Powers said the standards for commercial wind power facilities ordinance that restricts wind energy development to the top of Sunday River Ski Resort’s Barker Mountain was approved.
Voters also OK’d Article 3, which allows the Planning Board to request a preapplication hearing with applicants for major subdivision and site plan review projects.
Voters rejected Article 4, which sought to require permits for most building or remodeling projects worth $1,000 or more, and Article 5, which would have created a Newry Conservation Commission, Powers said.
Powers said selectmen wanted to lower the threshold of the Building Code Ordinance to $1,000.
Three years ago, the town modified the scope, agreeing that provisions of the ordinance would apply to construction or placement of a new structure, the value of which, including labor and materials, exceeds $2,500; and in remodeling, for any structural improvements, maintenance or repairs to existing structures that exceeds $25,000 in any 12-month period.
When it came time to vote on it, Powers said she didn’t think people knew what they were voting on.
“I think they thought it was going to increase their taxes,” she said. “They had such a discussion. There were so many people. There was so much talking going on back and forth, so it just got voted down.”
Powers said she believes most of the crowd came to reject creating a conservation commission.
“They were all up in arms,” she said of the crowd and an unsigned handbill or letter circulated through town prior to the meeting, asking voters to reject the proposal.
“People didn’t want to be told what they could do with their property and what they could not do with their property, and they didn’t want any more restrictions than what the state already has.”
That’s not what the proposed commission was about, Steve Wight said Sunday in a Sun Journal story.
Wight said the conservation commission would have been a group that looks into open space issues and conservation issues within the town and advises selectmen. It would have no power.
“But you couldn’t convince them of that,” Powers said of the voters. “It was like, ‘Wow!’”
“It was amazing,” Wight said Tuesday evening. “It was the biggest defeat I’ve ever gone down to. It was quite impressive.”
Wight said he tried in vain to lobby for his proposal.
“The conservation commission article was a rout,” he said. “It was standing room only – more people than we’ve seen in forever – and they came with one purpose, in response to the letter.”
“You just couldn’t change their minds,” he said. “So I figure it’s a process and we’ll just keep reminding them that other towns have conservation commissions and keep an eye on what’s going on in other towns, and see if we can’t bring it up again, but not for a long while, I guess.”