BIDDEFORD – The City Council will consider Tuesday whether to disband an advisory committee created 13 years ago as a “watchdog” to a then-derelict code enforcement office.

Detractors say the Coastal Area Committee has outlived its usefulness and a new $200 fee for applicants to go before the committee is unfair.

“They already pay enough in taxes,” City Councilor Raymond Gagnon said. “If you live in any other ward in the city, you don’t have to go through that board (the Coastal Area Committee).”

Gagnon noted that the fee is especially unfair since the committee’s recommendations are nonbinding and can be overturned by city officials.

The Coastal Area Committee reviews all building permits, Planning Board requests and variances requested of the Zoning Board of Appeals for land within the coastal area.

The panel notifies abutters, holds public hearings and recommends whether the proposal should be approved or denied. It has five representatives from Biddeford Pool, Fortunes Rocks, Granite Point and Hills Beach and two “at large” members.

Chairman Kenneth Buechs, who has served on the committee since its inception, said the committee should remain in place. He said they review four to five applications a month and notify abutters of proposed projects.

“It provides a forum for people to come in and get familiar with a project and raise their concerns and call attention to something we may miss,” he said.

Code Enforcement Director Roby Fecteau noted that if an applicant meets all applicable local and state regulations, he is required to issue a permit, no matter what the committee recommends.

“Basically, what they’re doing is checking to see if the application meets the zoning requirements, which I do already. I already make sure that happens,” he said.

Gagnon said he expects councilors will refer the Coastal Area Committee item to the Policy Committee for further review during Tuesday’s meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.

Fecteau said the proposed $200 fee is intended to cover nearly $10,000 worth of annual administrative costs, which included mailing abutter notices, creating packets for committee members and public hearing advertisements.

City Councilor Jim Emerson also pointed out the process is circular, which is why people view the committee as a waste.

“The Coastal Area Committee has to have a code enforcement staff member there because they are laymen,” Emerson said. “So they have someone from Codes to tell them (if something conforms), and for what purpose? To make a recommendation back to Codes.”

When the committee was created, however, the city’s code enforcement office was not properly enforcing area ordinances. Fecteau said there were a number of projects in coastal areas that were improperly approved.

“People were getting frustrated with that,” he said.

However, it has now become an unnecessary hurdle that ties projects up, said Peter McPheeters, who owns Biddeford Pool-based real estate sales agency OceanView Properties.

“It merely is overseeing a very competent code enforcement office,” he said. “The code (office) in Biddeford is capable of doing their job on their own.”

Mike Small, who owns two buildings on a parcel of land in Biddeford Pool, said he has seen this first hand. Small has applied for a permit to turn a commercial unit in one of his buildings into a residential unit where he plans to live.

The Coastal Area Committee recommended against the proposal, and the Planning Board has since requested the City Council to allow it to delay its decision until July, when more summer residents will be in town for a public hearing.

“I think the committee has completely gone beyond what its purpose was,” Small said.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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