The Alna Planning Board and a planning consultant are soliciting public comment on the latest draft of bylaws for the board.
Alna residents spoke out against an earlier draft of the bylaws, proposed by planning board Chair Jeff Spinney while he is seeking the board’s approval for his own project on the Sheepscot River. In response to those complaints, the Alna Board of Selectmen suggested that a third party assist with the process.
Planning consultant Bob Faunce drafted the new version of the bylaws, which incorporate public concerns. The planning board discussed the draft in a Zoom meeting May 12.
Faunce read the draft and fielded questions and comments from the planning board and the public.
The draft bylaws require the planning board to distribute its agendas and information about public hearings through the town’s opt-in email list. The agenda items must include descriptions.
Some members of the public want the bylaws to prohibit the consideration of an item if the board has not provided notice that it will consider the item.
However, Faunce said the board may consider “applications of a routine or minor nature” that are not on an agenda.
Members of the public also want nonresidents to have the opportunity to speak at public hearings.
“All those interested in making comments at (public hearings) can do so. (The) chair can exclude irrelevant, immaterial, or repetitious evidence,” Faunce said in a written summary of the meeting.
Other concerns have to do with relationships between town officials. Some members of the public want a prohibition on appointments to the planning board of anyone who has a relative in an incompatible position. Jeff Spinney is the husband of Alna First Selectman Melissa Spinney.
Faunce described such a restriction as impractical.
“Aside from the difficulty in trying to determine incompatibility, this is impractical in a small town where it is often difficult to find volunteers for local public service,” he said in the summary.
There were also public concerns about members of the planning board holding other offices in the community. Faunce said that is the purview of the selectmen.
Many attending the meeting thanked Faunce for his work on the bylaws.
Ed Pentaleri, a resident and former selectman who has criticized Spinney’s handling of the bylaws process and his Sheepscot River project, expressed support for the new draft.
“I think we are going to be in a really good place if where we end up is a close approximation to what you’ve drafted here,” he said.
According to Pentaleri, the town of Damariscotta makes documents related to agenda items available to the public before meetings.
The availability of documents before a meeting means “people aren’t seeing those documents cold during the meeting, trying to absorb them at the same time there’s discussion and deliberation of the item,” Pentaleri said.
Faunce countered that an “applicant ought to have a fair shot” to present an application before the public reviews documents.
“Once you’ve got that meeting where the application is presented and the planning board schedules a public hearing, then I think it’s fair that the application documents be available,” Faunce said.
The town has distributed the draft bylaws through its email list. Public comments were due to Town Clerk Liz Brown, by email or mail, by Tuesday, May 19.
Faunce will review new comments and prepare responses for the planning board’s next meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.
The May 12 meeting followed an attempt to meet May 7 that failed due to technical difficulties with the videoconferencing platform Zoom.
The board, Faunce, and attorneys for Spinney and the town were visible to attendees at the beginning of the May 7 meeting, but the public could not participate except by typing messages.
The board attempted to resolve the issues for about 25 minutes before agreeing to reschedule. Members did not want to start a new meeting with a different link to join in case someone from the public arrived late and did not have the new link.
There were three items on the May 7 agenda: Spinney’s shoreland zoning application for a boat ramp and floats, the draft bylaws, and another shoreland zoning application for a greenhouse.
Spinney’s application was not on the May 12 agenda. An application for a new business and the greenhouse application were on the new agenda.
The board approved a permit for resident Jesse Cheney’s shed construction business.
Joan Belcher described her application to build a Plexiglas and wood greenhouse with a compost floor. The project will require a site walk before approval.
The technical issues that plagued the May 7 meeting had been resolved, although attendees urged the board to switch from a Zoom webinar format to a Zoom meeting format, which allows all participants to see one another and speak at any time.