Board opts to hold off on proposed changes to appeals ordinance
Searsport — Less than a week after the town held a public hearing — during which some residents questioned the immediate need to make changes to the ordinance governing the appeals process in town — the Board of Selectmen decided not to put the issue before voters at the annual town meeting next month.
Board Chairman Aaron Fethke made the announcement at the end of the regular selectmen's meeting Tuesday night, Feb. 5, during the time on the agenda dedicated to reports from selectmen.
Fethke said that during a board workshop that took place a day after the public hearing that was aimed at addressing the proposed changes to the ordinance governing the Board of Appeals Wednesday, Jan. 30, selectmen made a unanimous decision not to bring those changes before town meeting voters.
Fethke explained that the board collectively felt bringing the issue up at this time would cause "more angst and controversy than it's worth."
Concerns about clarifying the appeals process arose during the ongoing review of DCP Midstream's proposal to build a 22.7-million-gallon liquefied petroleum gas storage tank at Mack Point. In mid-January, just as the second round of public hearings got under way regarding the application from Colorado-based DCP, Searsport Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert was notified of a request from Searsport Zoning Board of Appeals attorney Paul Gibbons seeking clarification of the procedure to be followed when appealing a Planning Board decision.
According to the public notice posted in the Jan. 24 edition of The Republican Journal, the proposed changes would have included a provision stating that the board may elect to hold a consolidated hearing if more than one party files an appeal on the same decision, even if the arguments detailed in each of the appeals involve different facets of the same issue. The notice also stated that the ordinance changes, if approved, would have applied retroactively to any appeal of an order or decision on applications that were the subject of review as of Jan. 15, 2013, and specified that all appeals shall be considered on an appellate basis, rather than starting from scratch. That means the Appeals Board would consider information provided in the existing record from the original body that made the initial decision.
At the Jan. 30 public hearing, some residents questioned why the ordinance changes were being proposed now, in the midst of the ongoing public hearings regarding the DCP proposal, and urged the town to take more time to consider the changes. Others who spoke about the proposed changes questioned why the public notice indicated that the alterations would apply retroactively, and sought clarification about whether selectmen would support making a change that would allow it.
Gibbons explained at the public hearing that the ordinance would still apply retroactively in some cases even if the word "retroactive" were not included in the new ordinance language. That's because, Gibbons said, it would not take effect until someone applied for an appeal.
At Tuesday's board meeting, Fethke said the town may need to look at changing other ordinances that also include appellate language, and those changes could not be made without drafting new proposed language and holding public hearings.
"It's wiser to put it off until the 2014 town meeting," Fethke said.