CHINA — A revised land use ordinance that includes new sign rules and standards for measuring buildings has received a green light from the Planning Board and now heads to the Board of Selectmen, which will decide whether to send the changes to a vote on the election ballot Nov. 8.

Planning Board Chairman Frank Soares III called the progress a major accomplishment, noting that the board has twice before attempted to alter the ordinance but has never succeeded.

“I’m pretty pleased with it,” Soares said. “It was a lot of hard work.”

The final revisions were completed after multiple meetings and a public hearing in July during which a number of residents brought forth their concerns.

“Everything that was brought up at the public meeting, we went through each one of them,” Soares said.

The motion to approve the latest revisions and send them to the select board, which meets Monday, was approved 3-0 at a Planning Board meeting Tuesday night. Committee members Toni Wall and James Wilkens were not in attendance.

The major change to the ordinance comes in how structures are measured. Instead of using volume and square footage, the Planning Board proposes using footprint, the new guideline used by the Department of Environmental Protection since 2015, a change which a number of other towns are looking to adopt as well.

The board is also proposing the town change a part of the ordinance that addresses signs, which was met with some opposition. The proposed change would grandfather signs that existed before a different ordinance change in June 2010, making some signs non-conforming. At the time, there was no allowance for grandfathering built into the ordinance, which restricted size and types of lighting.

Code Enforcement Officer Paul Mitnik said at the public hearing that 60 to 70 percent of signs in town were in violation of the ordinance, and an allowance for grandfathering could fix that.

The changes also propose that all signs be required to be turned off from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m., unless the business is open during those hours. Previously, signs could only be turned on during business hours.

One resident at the public hearing said he thinks the change will hurt residents who live close to businesses with bright signs, and that a part-time code enforcement officer won’t be able to police the turn-off time of 10 p.m.

The Planning Board is also proposing the town adopt the state’s Seasonal Conversion Rules in dealing with seasonal residents who want to convert their property into a year-round residence. Much of the timber harvesting guidelines have also been removed and replaced with statewide standards from June 2016.

The Planning Board discussed looking back at the 15-point criteria for construction, which the select board has questioned before.

“We need to go back and look at them and say, ‘Does this make sense, is it necessary, is it redundant, do we need 15 of them?'” said committee member Milton Dudley.

Soares agreed and said the board should try to look at them over the winter.

Mitnik reported to the Planning Board that he thinks they should also look at a town ordinance that affects any structure larger than 1,500 square feet built in the lake watershed. It’s out of date compared to Department of Environmental Protection’s current ideology and standards, he said. Now, the ordinance lets residents use buffers to mitigate phosphorous, but those don’t always work he said.

The department also now takes into account the soil types on a property. For well-drained soils, buffers can be relaxed, Mitnik said, which means standards could be less restrictive for some properties with good soil.

“The other issue is, if you put a buffer in, it could get lost in the shuffle when you sell the property,” Mitnik said. The department recommends deed restrictions to solve this problem. Right now, China has no regulations.

The Planning Board will hold its next meeting on Sept. 27 at the Town Office.

Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour


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