Kingfield voters approve contract zoning ordinance at annual town meeting

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KINGFIELD – Two high-profile contestants competed for the second seat on the Select Board in this year’s election. Kim Jordan won with 197 votes, against 131 for incumbent Polly MacMichael.

This was the first year of absentee voting, allowing people to vote by ballot prior to the annual town meeting. More people voted than were in attendance at the town meeting, observed select board member Wade Browne. In past years, voters had to be present at town meeting to vote.

Budget items passed as written, save a few changes in the funding source for smaller budget requests. Discussion often centered around the source of the funds, usually referring to tax increment funding or TIF funds. Administrative Assistant Leanna Targett, who was appointed Town Manager by the select board at this meeting, explained that the verbs “appropriate” typically meant from a source other than taxes, whereas “raise” meant taxation.

Annie Twitchell holds the microphone for Kathy Houston for one of several of her questions at the meeting. (Jeff Maget photo)

Resident Kathy Houston asked about $9,000 appropriated from TIF Revenue for the Administrative Account. She understood TIF funds could not be used for administration but was meant for village enhancement, economic development, and other specific purposes. John Goldfrank asked about TIF funds being used for fire department and highway equipment purchases.

Targett explained that changes have been allowed by re-writing the agreement with the State, which in the past has taken years but is currently expected to take as little as six months. Targett noted the difficulty of making these changes with the State and that the Town has engaged a company that specializes in such changes. The current TIF, which originated when Poland Spring came to town, expires in 2039. Any funds not appropriated by then will go back to Poland Spring.

In discussing an additional $45,000 to be added to the Village Enhancement Committee’s (VEC’s) $341,000 balance, Targett said that the money had to be allocated based on “use it or lose it,” and that placing money in the VEC account meant that funds could later be pulled to another account for other TIF-eligible projects.

Charitable contributions passed easily. Residents increased the usual annual $1,500 donation to Kingfield Historical Society with an additional $5,000 from TIF revenue. The town also approved $7,500 for Kingfield Pops from TIF revenue.

A discussion of $5,000 from TIF funds to support Kingfield Quad Runners ATV club and the Kingfield SnoWanderers snowmobile club led to a discussion of permissions from landowners. Where these two clubs maintain approximately 50 miles each, only 5 miles overlap, representing the difference in permissions.

All trail systems operate with landowner permissions, which clearly vary between summertime ATV use and wintertime snowmobile use. Sue Davis pointed out that many snowmobile trails should not be used by bicyclists because landowner permissions may not extend to such use.

The town reviewed a request for $6,000 for Maine’s Northwestern Mountains (formerly Maine’s High Peaks) marketing through a 120-page brochure, their website and their visitor center in Carrabassett Valley. Following the select board’s recommendation for $2,000, some residents questioned the $6,000 amount, but the larger sum was ultimately approved.

Kim Jordan of Jordan Lumber and John Goldfrank of Longfellow’s Restaurant both supported the larger amount, crediting the publication not only with support of their businesses but also of town festivals and other activities. Carrabassett Valley not only maintains the Information Center in the Valley, but also contributes $20,000, representing a significant subsidy for the larger region.

Kingfield Planning Board member Richard Hawkes discusses Contract Zoning at the Kingfield Town Meeting. (Sue Davis photo)

There appeared to be strong support for a proposed Contract Zoning ordinance. Planning board member Jared Clukey noted that fellow board member Richard Hawkes deserves credit for spending a hundred-plus hours researching contract zoning. Part of Hawkes’ research was included in a two-page addition to the town warrant documents. Discussion centered more on the mechanics of approving contract zoning requests.

As Hawkes and others pointed out, contract zoning provides the town with a tool to approve something that benefits property owner and town alike that would normally not be allowed under current zoning. The level of approval required does safeguard the town, from CEO (code enforcement officer) to planning board, select board and ultimately town voters.

Contract zoning at the planning board level requires public hearings, providing voters with information and an opportunity to voice their concerns. Such hearings can send the planning board back to require changes from the applicant. Likewise, after select board approval, if voters do not approve, the applicant can either drop the project or redesign it to meet approval based on concerns, at which point it goes back through the entire approval process.

Contract zoning projects typically require timely approvals that might not fit the normal annual town meeting. Houston asked if it were possible to use the absentee ballot process just used successfully with the election of Town officers rather than waiting for the annual town meeting or having a special town meeting. Planning board member Sue Davis added that the hearings required in the process provide voters with ample opportunity to learn details of the project and to express concern.

Moderator Paul Mills provided his legal opinion that the select board had the prerogative to determine the approval method to be used, however that the town should confirm that with municipal advisors such as the regional Council of Governments or Maine Municipal Authority. Houston then asked select board members, “How do you lean?” Selectman Browne acknowledged that such a process might work well for Kingfield.

The article approving Contract Zoning passed by a strong majority.

Owner of the former Tranten’s grocery story and active Kingfield resident Donald Tranten speaks to the success of the signage discussion and suggests that the Village Enhancement Committee hold public meetings to identify Kingfield’s style, purpose, or “brand.” (Sue Davis photo)

A proposed signage ordinance was another matter. Responding to Goldfrank’s question about exactly what it entailed, planning board chair Clay Tranten explained that this article refers specifically to barring internally lit signs. In fact, the town’s legal counsel considers the ordinance insufficient and recommends that the planning board should create a stand-alone ordinance, complete with public hearings, that not only says what signage is but what it is not. This current article is only a quick fix in the current ordinance to ban interior-lit signs.

Jordan presented arguments for the interior-lit signage. She believes that businesses that employ locals should have the right to advertise their products, noting that lettered signs she’d used in the past were difficult to maintain. Jordan Lumber’s current sign allows her to change messages from her computer at home. She also explained that she talked with neighbors about the amount of light, which she was willing to cut back at night. None expressed concern. Adding to that, Clukey supported a business owner’s right to sign their property as they chose.

Representing an opposing view, Claudia Diller responded that virtually everyone who travels through Kingfield thinks of it as a charming rural village. “Jordan Lumber is the only show in town,” she added, suggesting its sign is not necessary and that the same applies for the former Tranten’s grocery store. She and others felt they did not want the town to look like Route 1 or North Conway, NH.

Tom Hildreth, founder and former owner of Carrabassett Coffee, referring to his Java Joe’s shop in Farmington noted that that highly successful and attractive downtown doesn’t have a single internally lit sign. Davis added that Jordan’s sign would be grandfathered should the current article and a future more detailed sign ordinance pass.

The vote was close, leading the moderator to call for a count. With 37 in favor and 18 opposed, the article passed.

After approving the increase of the property tax levy limit at $1,926,073, the meeting adjourned.

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