Gardiner residents will have their first chance to comment on and ask questions about the draft of an update to the city’s comprehensive plan Thursday night.
The nearly 200-page document, a road map to guide decisions of city officials and planners, is the result of more than two years of community input about what people want the city to look like over the next decade.
The Comprehensive Plan Committee is hosting the workshop for the public to provide feedback to the draft at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.
The draft, which can be viewed on the city’s website and at City Hall, includes an overview of previous planning efforts, the makeup of the city and current zoning maps, along with overarching goals, policy suggestions and implementation strategies. Thursday’s meeting is the first time the public has been able to provide feedback on the completed draft plan.
Comprehensive plans, as outlined in state law, focus on land use and planning issues. They will be used by city councilors and staff members when deciding whether to make changes to zoning or other planning and development issues. Gardiner last updated its plan in 1997.
The two overall goals in the plan are to expand the city’s tax base and enhance the desirability of Gardiner as a place to live, work and visit.
One of the major zoning changes suggested by the plan is creating a mixed-use zone to better transition the industrial, commercial nature of outer Brunswick Avenue with the residential neighborhoods farther north toward the downtown. The zone, between the Gardiner Armory area and the four-way intersection with Old Brunswick Road, will be similar to the planned development zone now covering most of that area; but commercial uses such as retail, service and light manufacturing would be limited to a maximum of 10,000 square feet per use.
The plan also encourages the design of development to be more similar to the character of residential areas.
Patricia Hart, chairwoman of the plan’s committee and a city councilor, said the idea is that design standards look more residential closer to downtown and more industrial farther away from downtown.
“By doing these multiple zones along Brunswick Avenue and the downtown, we’re setting it up so it transitions better, so you get a better feel,” she said. “You don’t go abruptly from one zone to another.”
Another major zoning change proposed by the plan is to change outer Highland Avenue from residential growth to rural, which Hart said is the result of feedback from residents who wanted more opportunities for rural activities.
Nate Rudy, director of economic and community development for the city, said the land use maps in the plan represent less of what is now in the city and more of “a map of what makes sense to be there in the future.”
The approval of the comprehensive plan doesn’t change the zoning maps and ordinances, Rudy said. After the plan is approved, City Council will set priorities for the different recommendations, and city staff and committees will begin crafting changes to the ordinances, he said.
One suggestion in the comprehensive plan that is already being developed, Rudy said, is finding a way to allow the creative reuse of older buildings that had previous uses that are no longer allowed or feasible where they’re located. For instance, a hard cider brewery is looking to locate in the former Gardiner Congregational Church on Church Street, but current zoning rules don’t allow it.
The public input that helped develop the plan largely came through the Heart & Soul project — a two-year community planning project funded by a $100,000 grant from the Orton Family Foundation that ended at the start of this year.
Hart said the committee is hosting the workshop to allow people to make suggestions and ask questions before the plan reaches the official public hearing stage. Once the committee takes the draft status off the plan, it must be available for viewing for 30 days before the public hearing with the committee and the Planning Board, Hart said. It’s then passed on to the City Council for additional public readings and sent to the state for approval.
She said the goal is to have council review it sometime in May.
Rudy said Thursday’s meeting is a chance for the public to say whether the plan reflects its visions or values and whether the committee should rethink any idea or language.
“It’s a vetting process, if you will,” he said, “to make sure we have in fact captured the community’s will through this process.”