CHINA — Proposed changes to municipal code standards drew concern Monday night when about 25 people attended a public hearing on Nov. 8 ballot items.

The proposed changes to the land use ordinance would align the town’s code with state standards, which includes switching from the use of volume and square footage as measurements to using footprints, changing seasonal conversion requirements and changing the language about when seasonal property owners can visit their properties.

Scott Pierz, the town’s former code enforcement officer and a resident of 35 years who is now president of the China Lake Association, repeated some of the same concerns he previously mentioned at public hearings for the proposed land use ordinance changes.

“I expressed concern about taking a step back,” Pierz said to the Board of Selectmen. “The town of China has always had the privilege, if you will, of having home rule authority.”

Pierz said he disagreed with the decision to use only footprint, as it would allow people to increase the volume on their properties by enclosing decks, for example. He also disagreed with the decision to fall back on state statutes for many requirements, saying he thinks the state may be relaxing its standards.

Selectwoman Irene Belanger said she thought she remembered the state ordering China to have more “stringent standards” in the past because of its poor lake quality.

Selectwoman Joann Austin said that, as she understood the ordinance, it would make it easier to force those who lived around the lake to have proper septic systems.

The town also is proposing on the election ballot to buy two pieces of land and accept another one being given to the town. Descendants of the previous owners of land that abuts the Town Office are offering to sell it to the town for $12,000, which is nearly half its assessed price of $21,000, according to Town Manager Dan L’Heureux.

Pierz spoke in favor of this proposal, saying it would help the town, should it want to expand its facilities because restrictions in the phosphorous control ordinance. Acquiring the land would help overcome that obstacle.

“When a town has the opportunity to acquire a piece of land through town vote, they should do that for prosperity,” he said.

While the town does not have ideas for the space yet, Selectman Ronald Breton said the land could be used to build an emergency response center if the U.S. Department Homeland Security ever mandated a separate facility be built. The center is in the Town Office now.

The town is also proposing to use tax increment financing, or TIF, money to buy a piece of property along the causeway for $10,000.

The money comes from an agreement stemming from a TIF district in 2015 established by Central Maine Power upgrades. The town receives more than $200,000 each year toward the TIF fund, which has about $200,000 in it.

The proposed purchase would allow the town to create more space for parking near the boat launch. Robert MacFarland, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the town has been working with the Department of Environmental Protection to come up with a plan to install an infiltration system to prevent stormwater from the parking lot from running into China Lake.

The town also is proposing to accept a gift of land from Wachusett Properties Inc. of multiple lots off of Lakeview Drive that total 40 acres. The lots were subdivided legally but have not been sold.

“That’s 40 acres. Why in the heck does the town want 40 acres off the tax rolls?” said Paul MacDonald, a resident and former selectman who attended the hearing.

Belanger said it was a free investment and the town could “lighten the load” in the future and sell off parts of the land if it wanted to. As with the property by the Town Office, there are no specific plans for the land yet. The former owners did have engineers install a road leading to the land for the subdivision, so MacFarland said one possibility could even be a business park.

Selectman Neil Farrington said the Fire Department might be able to build a firehouse on the lot that is on Lakeview Drive, which would make it easy for firefighters to get in and out.

In other business, the town is proposing moving $100,000 from the undesignated fund balance to the reserve fund for municipal capital and equipment. L’Heureux explained that the town is trying to do long-term planning so it doesn’t have to take out debt bonds when it needs new emergency vehicles or plow trucks, the cost of which starts at $150,000.

“The reason the town has zero debt is because of that capital account,” he said.

The Budget Committee did not recommend the article at the time because $1.1 million was available in the undesignated fund balance, which is intended for emergencies. Robert Batteese, the committee chairman, said the assessor and the committee decided $1.2 million was the number they should always aim to have in the account.

The balance can vary as often as money gets returned from projects that don’t happen. L’Heureux said it usually ranges in between $1.1 million and $1.3 million.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour


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