Kennebunk’s Comprehensive Plan Committee has put together a comprehensive document about our town and its guidelines for growth over the next 10 years. This is significant. Once approved by voters, perhaps in June, what actions town committees and members of the select board take in future, if done well, should be grounded in the guidelines of the comprehensive plan. The committee held a hearing by zoom on Dec. 1 (recorded), and now they will consider input from citizens before finalizing the document and presenting it to the state this winter. The plan as currently written is very readable and available online at www.kennebunkmaine.us/compplan.

Chris Babbidge Courtesy photo

My concern is geriatric. Does the plan address active quality of life issues for its aging population? Does the town have plans for housing close to services? Does the town have plans to address transportation for its non-driving population? In order to promote health and access for its aging population, as well as its youth, does the plan encourage bicycle lanes and sidewalks to ensure that activity by seniors is safe as planned by the town?

Kennebunk has 50 percent more citizens over 65 than the average York County town. Although our town has some well-to-do seniors, we also have folks for whom aging presents worrisome financial challenges. As Kennebunk ages, the town leaders must plan for all seniors’ success and safety.

State law says that towns doing comprehensive plans should adopt policies that 1.) “encourage creation of age-friendly communities,” that 2.) promote “housing that meets the needs of older adults” by “rehabilitation, adaptation, or (new) construction,” and that 3.) “land use policies encourage aging in place” and that “address issues of special concern to older adults, including transportation to and accessibility and availability of needed services.”

Aging in place may mean staying in one’s home, but, most importantly, it means providing a path to not only stay healthy and active, but to stay in town and continue economic and social relationships. Whether in their 60s or 80s, it is undeniable that Kennebunk would not be the town it is today without both the employment and volunteerism of those two generations of seniors.

I know this language about seniors is the law because I wrote it. It became law two years ago. For full disclosure, the idea was originally that of Speaker Mark Eves, who, working with Jessica Maurer, asked me to sponsor a similar bill five years ago as part of a multi-pronged senior agenda. I got my part through both houses, but Gov. LePage’s veto was upheld by a minority of the House, and it was killed.

When I tried again three years later in the 129th Legislature under Speaker Gideon, it may be the only time I sponsored a bill that went through both houses without a dissenting vote, this time also getting the signature of Gov. Mills. Democrat and Republican leaders alike realized that, in the year that Maine passed Florida in median age as the oldest state, having towns plan for this growing population’s safety and success was both responsible and mutually beneficial.

Unfortunately, through no fault of its authors, Kennebunk’s comp plan does not reflect discussion over the specific wording regarding seniors in the law included above. This new language of the law has not made it into “rule” nor onto “the checklist” used by towns, a list unchanged since 2011. The State Planning Office was dissolved by the state cuts of 2011-12, and today a skeleton crew in Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry now handles the more than 200 comprehensive plan reviews.

The new law, as passed and implemented in 2019 (halfway through Kennebunk’s process) defines an age-friendly community as one where “policies, services, settings, and structures support and enable people to actively age in place.” It is a community that “plans to meet the needs of older adults in flexible ways that 1.) support healthy and active aging across a person’s lifespan, 2.) promotes the inclusion and contribution of older adults in all areas of community life, 3.) respects the self-determination and independence of older adults, and 4.) protects those older adults who are most vulnerable.”

State law now encourages that each of these considerations be included in towns’ adopted plans.

I have brought to the committee’s attention the new language to state law on age-friendly communities and criteria for land-use for housing and transportation. On Dec. 1 they also heard environmental concerns about water-quality of rivers and beaches. They will begin to address the Dec. 1 comments at their scheduled Dec. 6 meeting. It is my hope the Comprehensive Plan Committee will receive this and future citizen testimony as it is intended: helpful input seeking what is best for our community, laying the groundwork for good decisions tomorrow.

Housing is a chapter in the plan required by the state. Kennebunk’s housing strategies include targeting workforce housing, but not that of seniors, and the plan recommends only the state-mandated minimum recommendation that 10 percent of new construction be affordable. My hope is that the plan will be amended to use state law to provide backbone in the Plan for upcoming decisions that can specifically address needs of Kennebunk’s older adults.

Please read the plan off the website or at the library. You’ll learn much about Kennebunk. This may be the last chance to make changes before the final draft is sent to the state, and then presented to citizens at formal hearing shortly before a yes or no vote at the polls in June. If you have comments, please act soon and share them with the committee through the town planner at [email protected] (207-985-2102). They will be pleased to know their work is being read. Your comments may make a difference over the years to come.

Chris Babbidge is state representative for District 8 in Kennebunk. He helped create Kennebunk’s first comprehensive plan 30 years ago. He may be reached at [email protected]

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