Topsham votes on grant, park plan and sign rules
At a special town meeting scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Mt. Ararat High School Commons, Topsham residents will vote on four questions.
After electing a moderator, voters will be asked, in Article 2, whether to approve a $10,000 Community Development
Block Grant application.
During the Nov. 16 public hearing on the warrant, John Shattuck, the town’s economic and community development director, said the Mid Coast Council of Government’s Jason Bird prepared the grant application. During the coming year, MCOG would study the feasibility of connecting Brunswick and Bath public transit systems in a way that would serve Topsham.
Topsham is listed as the applicant because CDBG funds can only be disbursed through a municipality, Shattuck said. Topsham also stands to benefit most if the study shows that connecting the transit systems would make it feasible to expand service to Topsham. Shattuck told selectmen he hears often from the residents at the Westrum House senior living center and from residents in other areas of town who no longer drive and would like access to some form of public transportation.
“ The town has no investment of either cash match or staff in-kind time match in this,” Shattuck said. MCOG would provide a $5,000 cash and in-kind match.
Article 3 asks voters whether to spend money from an existing reserve account to create redevelopment designs for the Green Street area, in accordance with the results of the Lower Village Waterfront Access Study.
The waterfront access study report, funded by a Shore and Harbor grant the town received through the State Planning Office, is due in December. Town Planner Rich Roedner said, “What we’ve heard from people is that they would like to move forward with this. ‘Don’t just do the study and then let it sit for six months, a year, two years, and then pick it back up.’”
Passage of the article would let the town take reserve money that was appropriated by town meeting for a waterfront park in Lower Village about six years ago to start work on conceptual designs for a park, Roedner said, “so that we have some idea of what we can bring forward when we’re in the next step talking to people about actual park issues.”
The Board of Selectmen recommends spending $26,000. Roedner said this “quality of life” account had a balance of about $26,260 as of the first week of October.
The Topsham Community Fund Committee endorses Article 3.
Article 4 asks voters whether to adopt an amendment to Topsham Zoning Code Chapter 225-33 regulating signs, to provide standards for sign installation in new zoning districts.
Voters at the May 2011 town meeting rejected all proposed sign ordinances on the warrant. Since then, the Planning Board has worked to revise Topsham’s overall zoning as it relates to signs.
One of the proposed zoning amendments in May was intended to “plug some holes in our existing sign tables,” Roedner said. In 2008 and 2009, several new zones were created in response to the Main Street Plan. Those zones weren’t included in the sign tables.
“We’ve had conversations now with at least two businesses (in the new zones) that have talked about signs,” Roedner said. “The only answer we can give them at this point after consulting with our attorney is, ‘You’re not allowed to have signs.’”
The Planning Board recommends that the town use previous standards for these omitted zones until the comprehensive rewrite of the sign ordinance is complete.
Article 5 asks voters whether to adopt amendments to the ordinance regulating the Topsham Fairgrounds.
Selectman Ronald Riendeau said at the Nov. 16 meeting that selectmen and fairground representatives have met over the last year to clarify allowed uses at the fairgrounds, as well as any restrictions placed on those uses.
Selectman Donald Russell added that the proposed amendment language creates three layers of review. One is the normal fair operations requiring only that public safety officials be contacted so a public safety plan can be put in place.
The second layer of review is for events that take place outside of the normal fair week but are the same types of activities.
The third layer is for special events, Russell said. Selectmen would hold a public hearing for special events and conduct a conditional use hearing. If the same organization gains selectmen’s approval and plans to hold a similar event of about the same size in subsequent years, the organization could seek a permit from the codes enforcement office.