SEDGWICK, Maine – This small town has vowed to not be caught unaware by starry-eyed developers again.
Two wireless communications towers have been constructed in the town, all in the absence of a legally binding process to regulate the development of those projects. Now, Sedgwick is working on ordinance language to govern any new towers that would be built in the town.
“I think everybody realizes that there’s a reason to have ordinances,” said Peter Neill, a member of the town’s Planning Board who was charged with drafting the rules. “You’re protecting the people in the town, so when there are implications and impacts [development], you need to have some kind of framework to evaluate that.”
Neill also led a committee to draft an ordinance for the development of wind-power turbines in the town.
His draft ordinance would require developers to meet with the town’s Code Enforcement Officer 30 days before filing an application. With the application, the developer would need to include copies of letters with notice of development plans to all neighboring property owners and the Board of Selectmen.
The developer also would be required to pay an application fee of 20 cents per square foot of the total fenced-in area of the tower, plus $500 for each accessory building. They would also have to pay a $5,000 fee to cover “all reasonable and customary fees incurred by the municipality” in processing the application. The town would reimburse the developer for any portion of that fee not used.
Those fees may seem high, but Neill said they’re necessary to protect taxpayers from bearing the burden of development costs.
“We end up paying lawyers, consultants. Then there are direct costs,” he said. “All these things are paid for by taxpayers, and why should they pay those costs when it’s a development proposal?”
The Planning Board will continue to hash out the ordinance language before passing it up to the Board of Selectmen for final approval. In the meantime, wireless tower applications will still be accepted by the town, despite the six-month moratorium on new applications that seemingly passed in July.
Neill said meeting minutes that show the Planning Board passing that moratorium were the result of a misunderstanding. In reality, he said, they were simply recommending the selectmen put the issue before voters at a special Town Meeting.
In towns where the general population acts as the legislative body – that’s any town with a board of selectmen rather than a town or city council – moratoriums must be approved in a town meeting.
“It was a confusion that got clarified,” Neill said. He added that he hoped the moratorium would go to voters as soon as possible, so the town can work through its ordinance before processing any new tower applications.
The Planning Board will meet again on Sept. 11 at Town Hall.
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