The Belfast Planning Board conducted the first of three public hearings on proposed changes to city zoning ordinances inside the bypass.

City Planner Wayne Marshall gave an hour-long presentation on proposed changes to the city's Residential 1 Zone June 25. During the presentation Marshall highlighted the major changes proposed to the R-1 zone before several members of the public addressed the board to ask questions and make comments on the proposal.

Marshall explained that the major change to the R-1 zone was a large expansion of its size into a section of the city that had previously by Residential-2 zone. That will now also include Seaview Terrance residents who brought concerns to the city council at its June 17 meeting about being included in the Residential-3 zone.

Several new uses are also proposed for the R-1 zone, said Marshall, including 1-bedroom above-garage apartments, bed and breakfasts, and group homes for the disabled. The new zone would decrease the minimum lot size from a 1/3-acre lot to a 1/4-acre lot. Marshall also identified a number of properties that would be candidates for contract rezoning.

One of the more complicated changes to the zone is the introduction of "traditional neighborhood setbacks." Rather than keeping the current uniform setbacks requiring a structure to be 25-feet from the road the new system will define minimum setbacks based on the current setbacks on each particular road.

This means homes on one side of the street could have a different minimum setback requirement from those on the opposite side. Marshall said this change was made to reflect the current setbacks within the city, which vary widely from street to street.

"This isn't the way I wanted to do this code and this isn't the way I recommended it to the planning board," Marshall said, "but the city attorney told us the two methods I came up with had a little too much discretion."

Marshall said he had recommended leaving the setback requirement up to the discretion of the code enforcement officer.

City Council Mike Hurley, who was attending the hearing as a member of the public, spoke and suggested the city include Marshall's presentation as a webinar online and to develop a written tutorial for those without internet connections. Hurley commented that the new plan was very complicated and despite reading material on the planned changes still found aspects confusing.

Several other members of the audience spoke raising questions about how the proposed changes would effect their own properties.

A public hearing will be held July 2 on the Residential-2 and -3 zones and a third hearing will be held July 8 on the Downtown Commercial and Waterfront Mixed Use zoning districts. All the meetings are taking place at the Troy Howard Middle School cafeteria at 6:30 p.m.