Chesterville residents review land use ordinance, board bylaws

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Rob Overton, Chesterville’s Code Enforcement Officer, speaks to the proposed Regular Land Use Ordinance at the beginning of a meeting Thursday evening.

CHESTERVILLE – Residents asked questions but were generally receptive to a proposed land use ordinance and a new set of bylaws for the Board of Selectmen at a hearing held Thursday evening.

The Regular Land Use Ordinance would build on a similar, recently-approved ordinance, generally falling in line with state minimum requirements. One significant change, according to Code Enforcement Officer Rob Overton, is the new ordinance would allow the CEO to enter any property with just cause, as determined by the Board of Selectmen, or with permission from the landowner in order to check for ordinance violations. This was a change from the previous ordinance, which did not provide means for the CEO to enter property except with landowner permission.

That inability to allow the CEO to enter property has become an issue in Chesterville, Overton and others at the meeting said, as the town has been dealing with a longstanding property issue relating to apparent contamination of a resident’s well. That issue, now going on four years, could not be successfully resolved legally without a visit, Overton said. In that case, he noted, a landowner potentially linked to the issue had stopped communicating with the town.

“It’s been going on far too long,” Overton said.

In response to questions from the audience, Overton noted that CEO issues practically always started with complaints and that the CEO would first seek the landowner’s permission to enter property, before turning to the selectmen to authorize a visit if that approval was denied. If a CEO did enter a piece of property, Overton said, he or she was restricted to unsecured sections, and therefore could not enter a dwelling or bypass a fence.

Other changes to the ordinance included allowing for the creation of back lots – lots without road frontage – and allowing for the construction of buildings within minimum setbacks assuming that an easement was obtained from the abutting landowner. The new ordinance also includes a grandfather provision for preexisting buildings requiring reconstruction or repair within a minimum setback, allowing them to be rebuilt within three years of removal.

Residents would continue to be required to fill out a free notification form with the town when permanent structures are constructed, rather than go through a permitting process that could require a fee. The new ordinance includes a penalty provision for violations; fines would range from $100 to $2,500 per day, although Overton said that in his experience courts tended to levy the minimum fine, rather than using a per-day tabulation.

A set of Bylaws and Policies for the Board of Selectmen has also been proposed, setting up rules of procedure for the board’s meetings. The bylaws indicate that the board will choose a chair and a vice chair, will keep recordings of the board meetings and utilize an agenda. They generally follow the practices of Robert’s Rules of Order, as well as state law.

The bylaws also indicate that the board will meet on the first and third Thursdays of each month at 6:30 p.m. Some residents at the meeting suggested breaking out the time of the meeting as well as selectman pay – set at $2,500 annually in the bylaws. Letting future boards determine what time to hold meetings would be more flexible, residents suggested, while selectman pay could be set at the annual town meeting.

Residents generally spoke in favor of the bylaws as a concept, saying that they would provide a stable foundation for future boards and help protect the town and its employees.

The board intends to put both the Regular Land Use Ordinance and the board’s Bylaws in front of residents at the annual town meeting later this year.

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