The Bristol Consolidated School gymnasium was full of residents on Thursday, Dec. 7, as they packed in to express concerns and support for Bristol’s draft comprehensive plan at the public hearing hosted by the comprehensive plan committee.
The event was moderated by Don Means, while the 14-member committee sat at the front of the audience, listening to attendee concerns ranging from land use to if their suggestions would be taken seriously.
The comprehensive plan is a document adopted by voters that helps guide municipalities toward a collective vision in efforts including conservation, land management, housing, and more.
Towns that adopt a comprehensive plan are given priority consideration when applying for some grants and funding from the state and become eligible for grants they otherwise wouldn’t be.
Jason Masters, of Bristol, read a portion of the comprehensive plan committee’s meeting minutes from Oct. 26, where a committee member said the committee was happy to hear public comment but not sure they would be accepting public revisions at this time.
“Is it still a fact that you’re not accepting revisions to the current draft plan you intend to submit?” Masters said.
Yates said that was incorrect and they were making ongoing edits. She cited the committee’s last meeting as an example where members discussed implementing the select board’s feedback.
“This meeting is also part of the information that we need to help make adjustments going forward,” Yates said.
Andrea Perley, of Bristol, a Bristol Planning Board alternate, said she saw the benefit of having a comprehensive plan and the possible monetary gain, but that she was not in support of the comprehensive plan, as it is, for a number of reasons.
One being that, according to Perley, the planning board was not consulted about the plan, in particular about the maps included, which she says the planning board could have provided some insight.
“We weren’t even consulted on building these maps,” Perley said. “Why weren’t (we), as an elected committee, asked to participate in this?”
Perley said the planning board will meet after public hearing and vote to make a statement about whether the plan should go forward as presented and that her vote would be no.
“Why would we put something forward for approval that maybe, according to a lot of what I’ve heard here, really isn’t our vision?” Perley said.
Michael Martone said he moved to Bristol from New Jersey because of suburban sprawl, something he said is a consequence of a town not implementing the kind ordinances or regulations suggested in the plan.
“I grew up in New Jersey, I left New Jersey because I have no interest in living in suburban sprawl,” Martone said. “I like our rural character, I like the towns and villages, and I hope something can be done to encourage the preservation of that character.”
Resident Robert Cushing said that he loves Bristol and thinks it’s “the best town in the county,” but what has changed are the faces. He asked the committee to raise their hand if they grew up in the area, which only a few on the committee did.
Yates, one of those who raised her hand, said that her work with the members of the board has shown her that even though they are not from the area, they care about the area.
As the hearing concluded, Yates said it was hard to not respond to the mischaracterizations and misreading of the plan, but that the committee’s job was to listen and answer questions.
“We want to create a plan that supports what we love about the town and supports us through times of change, because things are changing,” Yates said. “I’m glad you are all here, I’m glad we’re hearing your thoughts and concerns at this point, so we can take that back and do more work, but I want to assure everyone that this plan was created with positive intent.”
Bristol Select Board Chair Chad Hanna said after the public hearing that putting together a comprehensive plan is a long and difficult process.
“There’s always going to be pieces that you don’t agree with,” Hanna said. “There’s things in there I disagree with and don’t like, but there’s never going to be 100% agreement on anything you do.”
Bristol’s plan has been in the works since 2021, when the town formed a comprehensive plan committee after voters approved $60,000 at the annual town meeting to fund the effort and hire consultants to assist with the development of the plan.
Nothing in the plan is a mandate, according to Yates, and is a collection of suggestions about the future of the town.
Anything the town’s people would like to implement from the plan would have to go through the voters.
At the comprehensive plan committee’s Tuesday, Dec. 12 meeting, members discussed the public hearing and create an action list to move forward with.
That list includes putting together a joint meeting with Bristol’s planning board and select board in order to get on the same page.
“The meeting will be more of a philosophical discussion about getting on the same page,” Yates said.
Both Yates and Francis said that both the planning board and select board have been invited in the past, but the joint meeting is a new approach at working together.
The comprehensive plan committee will also continue working on making the edits the select board and planning board have sent to the committee for consideration.
According to co-Chair Richard Francis, in order to incorporate the suggestions heard at the public hearing into comprehensive plan, the committee will postpone the plan’s submission for approval by the state on Dec. 19.
This date was originally selected by the committee and North Star Planning as the latest the plan could be submitted in order to receive state approval before Bristol annual town meeting in March.
“We want this to be a plan that a vast majority of the community wants to have,” said RoseAnne Holladay, a comprehensive plan committee member.
Yates said that the committee heard voices they had previously not heard from at the public hearing and needed more time to consider and incorporate the feedback while working with the town’s other boards.
The draft comprehensive plan is available at bristolmaine.org/comprehensive-plan-committee, at the Bristol Area Library, and the Bristol town office.