2018-06-22 / Front Page

Cape wants participation in comp plan

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — Last month, Timothy Thompson, chairman of the Cape Elizabeth Comprehensive Planning Committee, gave a presentation to residents of the Eastern Meadows condominium complex on the status of his group’s work.

Given that the nine-member committee has been at work for more than a year to update the town’s planning and development plan from the last draft adopted in 2007, the reaction was, Thompson admits, a little surprising.

“Most of them were aware of what’s going on with the comp plan,” he said in an interview last week. “So, it’s something that we still struggle with, as hard as we are working to have public involvement. We really do want public input.”

On June 6, the committee held the second of three planned public forums. The gathering was lively, according to Judy Colby George of Yarmouth-based GIS mapping company Spatial Alternatives, who was hired as a facilitator to help lead the committee’s work. Twenty-five people attended the meeting.

The relative lack of community involvement could be due to a paucity of public controversy.

As Colby George noted, to date, “No one particular thing has come to the forefront.”

“There have been a few tweaks across the board, but nothing much has changed in terms of a land use (regulation) standpoint,” Thompson said. “We’re still very pro-open space, very pro-farmer, very-pro fisherman.

“If you look at the 2007 plan, it’s been a pretty good guide for us,” Thompson said. “Everyone seems to feel the town has been pretty-well managed over the past 10 years. So, we’ve been looking more at a tweak (to the plan). Nobody I think was looking to do a major overhaul and that’s pretty much how the process has proved out.”

Still, the pace is expected to pick up soon, as the committee edges toward its expected year-end completion date, when it will turn over the new plan to the town council for acceptance. On the way to that due date, the committee will stage one final public forum, expected sometime in September. That one will focus heavily on land use recommendations.

“To date, they’ve been pretty much in the state of gathering the data,” Colby George said. “When they come down to the final recommendations and an implementation schedule for the plan, that’s sort of when you’ll see any changes, either continuing forward in the way the town has been or if they want to change the direction of how planning in general has worked for the town.”

Another area sure to draw extra attention is the plan chapters on affordable housing, a hot-button topic in surrounding communities.

“It’s part of the state requirements, you’ve got to have affordable housing (provisions) in your plan,” Thompson said. “But it’s proven to be a real challenge. How do you do that in Cape Elizabeth? What is affordable housing? What’s affordable in one town as compared to another can be a pretty different number. But certainly that’s one of the things we are looking at, studying and trying to figure out how we can do it.”

Factoring into the plan, for affordable housing and elsewhere, is the fact that Cape Elizabeth is an aging community while Scarborough’s population has grown 17 percent over the past decade, and South Portland by nearly 10 percent, Cape Elizabeth has grown by 1 percent, continuing to hover right around 9,000 residents. However, there has been “a significant shift” in demographics, Thompson said, to the senior citizen side of the spectrum.

“That’s been kind of an eye-opener for a lot of folks,” Thompson said.

That makes planning for ways to help elders “age in place” is one thing the committee will have to factor into its recommendations, he said. The plan, once completed, is no mere doorstop for the planning office.

“The comprehensive plan that will be published in 2019 is going to be the guide to run the town’s business,” he said. “It is used extensively by the town council in making its decisions.”

That was true of the last plan, Thompson said. The last plan weighed in on the need to update and overhaul the town’s library, making it no small factor in eventual completion of that project, as the comp plan was cited over again as town officials tried to jump-start redevelopment of the site.

Among things that could come out of the new plan as core projects in coming years, Thompson said the committee is working on recommendations for boat access at Kettle Cove and Crescent Beach. Those sections of the new plan stem directly, he said, from testimony given to the committee by members of the town’s harbor committee.

That, he said, is why public involvement is so important.

“This is for the residents. It’s their plan and we want to hear from them,” he said. “We want to get feedback and wherever we can, we’ll build that into the plan.”

The committee meets monthly at town hall, with the next session scheduled for July 5. Additionally, the committee has maintained a chat site on loomio.com, where people can view draft versions of plan chapters and weigh in on planning topics. The message boards can be accessed from the Comprehensive Planning Committee page on the town website, at capeelizabeth.com.

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