It has been about nine months since I’ve become chair of the Ordinance Committee. I sit with Councilors Caterina and Sither – and together, we have tackled quite a few important issues in the last nine months. Keeping up to date with the ongoings of our busy community is no small task – so here’s a cliff notes version for 2023 to help you get up to speed.

Marijuana/Cannabis – in late 2022, it became clear the Council would need to address our Marijuana Ordinance. Residents adjacent to one of our overlay zones had been experiencing frequent issues with a facility nearby that impacted the enjoyment of their property and the neighborhood in general. A working group made up of business owners/cultivators in the industry along with residents were asked to help review and seek solutions to some lingering odor issues, among other concerns. After the collaborative efforts of all the stakeholders involved, we were able to implement a clear process for filing complaints, clearly delineate enforcement procedures and strengthen odor mitigation standards in cannabis facilities.

Marijuana/Cannabis – Part II – earlier in the year we received a request from a cultivator that wished to use their property located in a RF Zone (rural farmland) for marijuana cultivation. Some would surely argue that cannabis is a crop and a farmland zone seems to make sense as an allowable use of the property. However, the committee is also fully aware that most of our neighborhoods are located in RF zones. The committee denied the request of the applicant ultimately signaling any expansion of the cannabis industry outside of our already designated areas (industrial zones) was not in the best interest of the community. The committee was clear – we intend to protect our neighborhoods.

Zoning Cleanups & Maps – Zoning is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of community living. It dictates the activities and structures that are allowed on a property, quantity, location, as well as design standards and much more. The Ordinance Committee played an important role in helping clean up our maps, as well as a herculean effort from town staff to conduct an accuracy check of our maps dating back decades. The result was a new standardized process for making alterations to zoning maps and an update to our maps our residents can rely on for accuracy when contemplating their next projects.

Sexual Offender Registry Ordinance – the committee was able to develop an ordinance outlining the process of notification to community members as well as impose limitations where an offender could live in town. A special thanks to community members bringing this topic forward as well as for the thoughtful approach by Chief Holmquist and his team. This ordinance provides our law enforcement officers with the tools needed to keep our community safe.

LD 2003 (a.k.a. the “Accessory Dwelling Unit” law). In 2022, the State of Maine passed a law prohibiting towns from preventing owners the ability to add an ADU to their homes (e.g., In-Law Apartments). While paved with good intentions, this law presented large challenges for many communities in Maine. Specifically, the law allowed for 2.5 times more dwelling units per parcel than what local zoning would designate. To make matters worse, the law also prohibits towns from restricting ADUs, basically usurping local authority when it comes to zoning, growth, and development. Furthermore, it also dictated that units under the ADU law would not count toward our growth permit limits here in town. For a community already struggling with the impacts of growth, this law had major implications for us. Thankfully, we have an incredible Town Planner in Autumn Spear. With her assistance, we were able to craft an ADU ordinance that complies with the State law and maximized our local control to the largest extent possible.

Up Next: Short-Term Rentals. It was actually LD 2003 that codified municipal authority to adopt regulations around short-term rentals “in order to achieve the statewide or regional housing production goal.”. The ordinance committee is in the process of understanding what other communities are doing, what is effective, what if anything should be done and how big is the issue locally. The committee has already heard from many residents on this topic. On one hand, we have families that count on the income; on the other hand, we have families having to confront a revolving door of new faces in their neighborhoods. We look forward to continued thoughtful discussion with the community on this topic and many others as we finish out the year.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Scarborough Town Council.

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