Two years ago this month, the town of Newcastle launched the public planning process to create a new comprehensive plan (call it the comp plan) and character-based code (the code) for the town. Hundreds of you took part in one or more planning workshops over a five-day period in April 2016 and/or attended a follow-up listening session at the Harriet Bird clubhouse in July 2016. Those conversations and workshops formed the basis for the new comp plan and the character-based code.
Because our land use ordinance is outdated and cumbersome, and because these two documents inform each other, we elected to prepare both simultaneously and bring them to a vote at the same time – in June. However, last week the Newcastle Local Planning Committee, your public representatives in this venture, decided that we needed additional time to work through the character code. That means that the comp plan will be the document voted on June 12, and the code will be brought to the ballot at the general election in November 2018. At our two public presentations last week, we heard some confusion about the two documents, so we want to clarify the purpose of both the comp plan and the code.
What is the Newcastle Comprehensive Plan?
The comprehensive plan is the town’s official adopted statement of intent for the future of Newcastle. It serves as the foundation for informed decision-making regarding land use policy and investment actions. This plan establishes a vision and guiding principles by way of “big ideas.” While analyzing existing conditions and emerging trends, it describes and illustrates where future growth and development is preferred. It also identifies current and future public services and infrastructure, and presents strategic action steps for straightforward implementation. Maine state law requires that towns review and update their comprehensive plans every 12 years.
The comp plan sets out the current state of Newcastle and offers a collective idea of how we would like to see Newcastle grow over the next 10-15 years or more. The vision, suggestions, and action plans in it are based on current data as well as the input from the many residents who took part in our public process. The Newcastle Local Planning Committee has spent many long hours reviewing the data and making sure that the different voices in our community were represented in the comp plan as accurately as possible. The comp plan will be on the town ballot for vote at the June 12 primary and town election.
What is the character-based code?
Where the comp plan is the vision for the town, the code is the governing document that helps to accomplish the vision. The comp plan is not an ordinance, nor does it require that certain actions be taken when building or modifying existing structures or identify the various uses that can occur on the land and structures in the town. The current land use ordinance does that, and if we adopt the new code in November, it will replace the current land use ordinance as the governing document.
The code has a number of stated purposes. These are the first four:
To implement the comprehensive plan of the town of Newcastle.
To coordinate development and redevelopment according to plans collaboratively developed with community members from the town of Newcastle.
To equitably balance the regulation of real property with the interests of the community as a whole.
To preserve and enhance the existing character of Newcastle’s traditional walkable villages, to continue to promote neighborly activity, respect the existing built form, and honor the historic development pattern inherent in the villages.
The comp plan is the guiding vision for the code, and by adopting it in June, it will continue to inform our reviews and modifications to the code to create the most complete and useful ordinance we can for the town of Newcastle.
As we head toward the next comp plan public hearing on May 17, the public presentation on June 5, and the vote on June 12, we will be publishing a weekly commentary about the comp plan and character code with specific details in each. Both are currently available to download at newcastlemaine.us/services and we urge you to read them.
(Ellen Dickens and Ben Frey are the co-chairs of the Newcastle Local Planning Committee.)