BELFAST — The city is preparing to bring forces to bear on the issue of housing. From start to finish, the Jan. 17 City Council meeting addressed the topic from a variety of perspectives.

City Planner Wayne Marshall presented land-use ordinances for first reading, councilors discussed an upcoming workshop with the Planning Board on housing, and a Belfast resident asked the council to ensure the public has a voice in the discussions and decisions on the issue.

“We’re all in this together,” Belfast Mayor Eric Sanders said.

The theme developed early in the meeting during public comment. Belfast resident Glen Montgomery asked the council to consider all of the potential resources available to work through the broad topic of housing.

Montgomery advocated for an ad hoc committee on housing, an idea floated by City Manager Erin Herbig at the Jan. 3 council meeting. Montgomery noted such a committee would gather information for the Planning Board and council and could prove a valuable tool in the research process. He also encouraged the council to purchase the software necessary to determine and inventory short-term rental units in Belfast and encouraged the council to include the public at every step.

“I want to make sure there is as much opportunity as possible for city residents to have input into this whole process,” Montgomery told councilors.

The Belfast resident also noted the upcoming Jan. 31 housing workshop between the City Council and the Planning Board and asked councilors to provide ample seating for the public and to televise the workshop.

Sanders noted the workshop would be televised on BEL-TV and that in-person seating would be available as well.

Herbig advised the council that the housing workshop would be held in council chambers on Jan. 31 from 6 to 8 p.m. and confirmed the workshop would be televised.

City Planner Wayne Marshall followed with a presentation on land-use ordinance amendments from the planning committee. These ordinance proposals impact land-use policy both inside and outside the bypass.

The presentation was followed by a public comment session and a council vote on the first reading.

Marshall had previously presented the proposed amendments at the Dec. 6 council meeting. The Planning Board then voted to send each forward for formal council consideration at the board’s Dec. 14 meeting.

“The amendments, overall, help continue to expand the city’s intent to offer more opportunities for housing,” Marshall said, “particularly expanding opportunities for flex housing.”

Flex housing is generally defined as space on property that can be used for a variety of purposes.

Marshall added the proposed amendments would make land-use more consistent throughout Belfast, simplify interpretation, and are in line with the policy statements in the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Marshall added the proposals were not a “massive overhaul” of city codes, but a “move toward consistency.”

A public hearing followed Marshall’s presentation, with Montgomery acknowledging that he supported the amendments. The council questioned Marshall on a proposal that focused on “non-conforming use.”

Many councilors echoed the sentiment that the public would need to be better informed regarding non-conforming use.

“The average person, and I put myself in that category,” Councilor Mike Hurley said, “does not, cannot, comprehend all the implications for their property.”

Councilor Mary Mortier echoed Hurley’s sentiment. “I think we can do a better job of educating the public,” she said.

Several councilors wondered if BEL-TV could be enlisted to provide an informational segment on the proposed amendments. Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to approve all but the non-conforming use amendment for second reading. That reading and public hearing are scheduled for the regular council meeting on Feb. 14.

Marshall’s presentation was followed up by a council discussion on the many sides of the housing issue.

Councilor Neal Harkness renewed his effort to create a housing committee, indicating it would benefit the council in the long term.

“I’m not looking to just address the problems we have right now,” Harkness said. “To me, a committee could be looking forward to future opportunities.”

Councilor Brenda Bonneville said a housing committee would be helpful in gathering important information for the council and planning board on a topic that is broad and critical to the community.

“It’ a mosaic,” said Bonneville. “We have to be really up for it when we talk about housing — all kinds for all people.”

Councilors said they looked forward to the Jan. 31 workshop with the Planning Board (open to the public) as a way to clarify the most important issue and work on solutions.

Hurley noted the time for addressing the issue was at hand.

“Between the Planning Board, and the council, and the planning staff, if we can’t come up with some ideas, shame on us.”