More than 100 people attended a presentation to hear about the first draft of Newcastle’s new comprehensive plan and land use code in the Lincoln Academy Alumni Dining Commons on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
The presentation was the first of at least three presentations about the new planning documents. Voters will likely decide whether to approve the documents during the annual town meeting in June.
For some members of the Newcastle Local Planning Committee, the draft documents represent more than two years of work to update the town’s comprehensive plan and land use ordinance, according to Co-chair Ellen Dickens.
“The comp plan has not been implemented as much as we would have liked. Pieces of it have been picked up and dropped along the way,” Dickens said. “The land use ordinance in general has been a reactive document rather than an active, living document.”
By drafting new versions of both documents at once, the comprehensive plan and land use code will work together to move the town into the future, Dickens said.
In the spring, the Newcastle Local Planning Committee hosted a weekend of events, focus groups, and workshops to encourage Newcastle residents to help shape the new planning documents.
The consulting firm Maine Design Workshop used the input from residents as it drafted the documents. Some aspects discussed included better utilizing Main Street, celebrating the town’s history, and being a community for all ages.
These areas of focus influenced the documents, which use character-based code. Character-based code is a type of form-based code that divides a municipality into districts based on character, according to Russell Preston. Preston is design director at Principle Group, an urban design company that works with Maine Design Workshop. Preston explained the draft documents during the presentation.
The code divides Newcastle into character districts, including conservation, rural, countryside residential, village residential, village neighborhood, and village center. There are also special districts, including the highway commercial district and the campus special district.
Each of the districts has different allowances regarding the types of buildings that could be built within the district. In addition, districts could have a list of accessory structures and building additions, such as workshops or porches, that are allowed, Preston said.
“It’s kind of like Legos. There is some flexibility, but there are predictable outcomes,” Preston said.
If someone wants to build an accessory structure or addition that is allowed in the character district, the approval of the construction could be handled administratively and would not require a visit to the Newcastle Planning Board, according to Newcastle Local Planning Committee Co-chair Ben Frey.
Larger or more complex projects or developments could still go before the planning board as needed, Frey said.
The full drafts of the comprehensive plan and land use code will be available at newcastlemaine.us by Friday, Dec. 9. Both documents will undergo revision as the consultants receive feedback.