Damariscotta voters will decide whether the town should enact a moratorium on retail development larger than 2,500 square feet at the polls Tuesday, Nov. 7.
The moratorium, the result of a citizen’s petition, would temporarily ban new retail buildings of larger than 2,500 square feet and any new construction, expansion, or use that requires approval under town ordinances.
“The town of Damariscotta is suddenly under threat of increased development pressure from large-scale retail development,” the petition reads. “This development pressure was unanticipated and has not been adequately provided for in the town’s current land use ordinance.
“Continued large-scale retail development could pose serious threats to the public health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Damariscotta through the overdevelopment of parts of town with such businesses without adequate provisions for issues of safety, sewage, water, roads, and land use compatibility and visual access to view corridors.”
During public hearings, opponents of the moratorium have contested the petition’s claims that retail development poses a threat to the town.
If enacted, the moratorium would last 180 days, retroactively going into effect June 7 and ending Dec. 4. If, at the end of the 180 days, the town finds the issue necessitating the moratorium still exists and reasonable progress is being made to alleviate it, the Damariscotta Board of Selectmen could vote to extend the moratorium to June 1, 2018.
After consulting with town attorney Jenny Villeneuve, the selectmen voted 4-1 to schedule the referendum vote during their meeting Sept. 19. Selectman Mark Hagar cast the dissenting vote.
The Damariscotta Planning Board currently has one application submitted for review that could be affected by the moratorium. Commercial Properties Inc. CEO Daniel Catlin has appeared before the planning board several times since July to present his plans for an 11-acre property at 435 Main St.
Catlin’s plan calls for the construction of three buildings: a 22,000-square-foot building for two commercial stores, a 5,525-square-foot building with three commercial spaces, and a 2,700-square-foot bank with a drive-thru.
In the event the moratorium passes, there are some uses, including banking, that might not be subject to the temporary ban, Damariscotta Town Manager Matt Lutkus said.
“Based on the opinions that we’ve received from both the town attorney and (the Maine Municipal Association’s) legal department, the intent of the petitions appears that the moratorium would only be on retail,” Lutkus said. “So there are a number of commercial activities that might not be subject to the moratorium, like banking.”
The moratorium received a mix of reactions from Damariscotta residents in back-to-back public hearings Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 16 and 17.
Some of the petition circulators, including Damariscotta Planning Board alternate Jenny Begin and resident Kimberly Sampson, said the moratorium would provide a “pause” and allow the town to review existing ordinances to see if amendments are necessary.
Those in opposition to the moratorium expressed support for commercial development to grow the town’s tax base.
The moratorium has also been a topic of discussion both in letters to the editor of The Lincoln County News and in the community.
Last week, some residents received flyers against the moratorium from the Lincoln County Council of the Merrymeeting Board of Realtors, asking voters not to “put the brakes on moving Damariscotta families forward.”
The flyer also states that the moratorium would “forbid construction for new homes in Damariscotta.” The issue of the moratorium’s impact on residential development was addressed during the Sept. 19 selectmen’s meeting, when the board discussed whether the circulators intended for the moratorium to apply solely to retail development or to all zoning-related actions, including those affecting residential projects.
While summarizing a memo from Villeneuve to the selectmen about the petition’s language, Town Manager Matt Lutkus said the wording is “very confusing,” but both Villeneuve and an attorney from the Maine Municipal Association have concluded that the petition points to retail development as the moratorium’s focus.
The polls will be open at the town office from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.