The Newcastle Board of Selectmen has a treacherous path to negotiate as it considers what to do after the rejection of a new land use ordinance at the polls.
Opponents of the new ordinance will label any attempt to reintroduce it as an attempt to overturn the will of the voters.
The current ordinance, however, does not work.
We will give one example: back in 2011, a developer approached the town with a proposal to build senior housing on Snead Spur, between Route 1 and River Road.
It was just the kind of project a town like Newcastle might hope for: the construction would broaden the tax base without a significant tax impact, as such developments tend not to house many school-age children. It would fill a local need. Moreover, the developer was a Maine family business with a track record of successful projects.
But the Newcastle project evaporated overnight.
Why? Because an obscure provision of the land use ordinance restricted new construction to six units per landowner per two years.
The town has since amended the ordinance, but town officials say it remains clunky, out of date, and unwelcoming to development.
We have to raise another question. How much did voters base their decisions on the contents of the new ordinance and how much on rumors and false information?
Prior to the vote, we heard bizarre personal attacks on some of the volunteers who worked for years to develop the ordinance.
Other people falsely accused the town of developing the ordinance without public participation, a laughable claim if ever we heard one.
Not only did the town and its volunteers ensure opportunity for public participation, they aggressively promoted these opportunities. Remember the “This Is Newcastle” campaign?
The most constructive criticism of the new ordinance that we have heard is that the ordinance does not work for the vast rural areas of Newcastle, outside its historic villages and beyond Route 1.
Perhaps the town can adjust the document to take these concerns into account.
Then, we would suggest, the town should reach out directly to the most vocal opponents of the ordinance. What troubles them about the ordinance? What would the town have to do to earn their support for the ordinance?
If the town does these two things, we believe it could bring the ordinance back to voters for a second referendum.
After a voter-approved six-figure expenditure and countless hours of volunteer labor, to do nothing should not be an option.