OAKLAND — Residents of Oakland are pleased with its small-town feel, friendly community and natural beauty but have expressed interest in fostering a more vibrant downtown area with expanded green space, according to a recent survey from the Central Maine Growth Council and the Oakland Comprehensive Planning Committee.

The groups are working to draft a comprehensive plan that will help create a “long-range blueprint for the community,” according to the growth council’s Director of Planning and Economic Development Garvan Donegan.

On Monday evening, the committee will host a public workshop to discuss its research findings, educate people about the comprehensive plan and collaborate with those in attendance to re-imagine Oakland’s Main Street.

“We’ll be posing questions to the group such as, ‘How do (you) interact with the downtown?’ Not just, ‘What would you like to see?’ but ‘How do you access the downtown? How do you get to Main Street?” said Donegan. “This will be a very deliberative open discussion over a map, which we will be marking up, and then we will transition into getting into physical sites and locations where folks have interest, where there may be opportunities for development or redevelopment or a potential pocket park, as to solicit community input. Then … we’ll do some blue-sky visioning about what the community would like to see in the downtown.”

Revitalizing the downtown area was survey respondents’ most common response to a question about what the town could improve, with 35.4 percent of respondents expressing an interest in it.

“A municipality’s downtown is a hub of commerce and tourism, and it sets the tone for what life is like in the town,” said Town Manager Gary Bowman in a news release from the planning committee. “It is key for business and resident retention and attraction. Oakland is home to wonderful amenities and recreational assets, and our downtown can better coordinate and communicate these opportunities.”

Donegan said that community input is essential to the planning process. The comprehensive plan will serve as a guide for the town to identify projects for it to invest in the future.

“The goal here is by identifying projects and goals and policies, for example, if a grant opportunity comes up, this allows us to have a document that’s congruent with community visioning and community objectives,” Donegan said.

The recent survey garnered a 12 percent response rate, with 363 residents having filled it out either online or on paper. It was open to property owners, residents and business owners from July 29 to Nov. 1.

Elaine Theriault-Currier, development coordinator for the Central Maine Growth Council said the response rate was encouraging.

“We are pretty excited about (the response rate),” she said. “Anything over 10 percent would have been wonderful for us.”

While the majority of respondents — 63 percent — were over the age of 45, Theriault-Currier said that the interests of younger populations have been represented through requests for family-friendly spaces and multi-use trails for biking and strollers.

According to Donegan, the committee is about three quarters done with the process of drafting a plan. He noted that the group still has more work to do in the areas of writing, creating goals and policy recommendations.

The plan will need to be approved by Oakland’s town council as well as the state before it can be formally adopted. Donegan said he hopes to have a draft ready for the council in the spring, and is optimistic about the plan being adopted by the fall of 2019. There will be another chance for the public to offer input at a workshop before the document goes before the town council.

Maine’s 1988 Growth Management Act requires municipalities to have comprehensive plans to guide their growth. But Donegan noted that in reality, since there is “no enforcement mechanism,” many communities do not actually have one in place.

“One could argue that the statute does or does not have enough teeth, but I think that’s entirely a different issue,” said Donegan.

Bowman said that Oakland does not currently have a comprehensive plan. There was one drafted in 1996, but it did not gain the approval of the town. Bowman attributed this to the document’s proposal for zoning laws. Residents expressed strong disapproval for these rules.

The involvement of Central Maine Growth Council in the comprehensive planning process is part of a “special relationship” that the organization has with municipalities, including Oakland, according to Donegan. Typically, municipalities pay consulting firms to work on this type of project.

“We’re ostensibly their in-house advisors,” he said. “We’re not doing it for free. They’re investors in the Central Maine Growth Council on the basis of the services that we provide. This is one of them. This was identified as a priority project, and we said we’d be happy to do it.”

Donegan noted that Fairfield, Bowdoinham, Morrill, Richmond and Hampden were towns that the committee used as models as it has worked on reimagining Oakland.

Monday’s event is open to community members, local business owners and any individuals or organizations with an interest in the area. It will take place from 6-8 p.m. at the Cascade Room in the Oakland police station.

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins

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