City councilors approved updating the city’s 2012 Comprehensive Plan at their March 2 meeting after holding a public hearing where no residents spoke.

It serves as a guide for the city’s 10-to-15-year direction regarding many topics, but is separate from regulatory zoning documents. Musson Group was hired by the city to help develop the plan and will have the full plan completed by late this year or early next year, City Manager Erin Herbig said.

Belfast's 2012 Comprehensive Plan was never approved by the state, which resulted in the city's not being eligible for some state grants, according to Herbig. The city submitted a preliminary version of the updated document for state approval in January.

Musson Group Principal Planner Noel Musson has been working with the city since 2019 to update the 2012 plan and the city’s goals. He has been in contact with the state to seek approval for the plan.

Comprehensive plans help municipalities with consistency and developing zoning amendments, he said. So far, about 617 people have responded to the community survey, which is still open.

Most respondents feel that Belfast is a historic coastal community that serves the day-to-day needs of its residents, and is a regional hub offering services and employment to residents and neighboring communities.

Among respondents to date, 62.4% said they “definitely would” recommend Belfast as a place to live. Over 70% of respondents like the “community feel” and “access to the coast.” High property taxes, lack of housing opportunities and lagging infrastructure improvements were things respondents liked least about Belfast.

Most respondents wanted the city to focus its efforts on climate change issues, protecting marine resources, improving broadband internet infrastructure and protecting undeveloped spaces.

City Councilor Mike Hurley wanted to know how many of the survey respondents were from Belfast. He said he knew many people who were not Belfast residents who had taken the survey. He said the results mimic what the city is already focusing its efforts on, such as lack of housing opportunities and infrastructure improvements.

Musson wants to make the future land use policy portion of the plan "high level" to provide guidelines for discussion of land use policy instead of creating specific ordinance requirements. He will be working closely with the Planning Board with regard on this part of the plan.

He said it will be interesting to see how the city addresses its goals and balances the funding required to complete those goals. He will host online conferences for local stakeholders and members of the public to discuss what they want to see in the Belfast Comprehensive Plan.

Between working on this project and others in the city, Musson knows how engaged the community is, he said. “Just coming to these council meetings, it’s really interesting to see how engaged this community is."

The survey is still available for residents to fill out and submit through a link on the city’s website. A copy of the updated plan can also be found on the website.