New Gloucester Comprehensive Plan Update Committee on Track, Seeks Community Input

New Gloucester resident Anne Maurice recently sat down with Town Planner Scott Hastings to discuss the town’s ongoing Comprehensive Plan Update, why it matters, and how citizens can get involved.  Here’s Anne’s report. – eds.

Back in January of 2018, the New Gloucester (NG) Plan Update Committee was seated.  Since then, they have been working through the Comprehensive Plan process with the guidance of Scott Hastings, NG Town Planner.  Maine first enacted a requirement for comprehensive planning as the basis for zoning in 1943.  In 1988, Maine adopted the Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act, building on long-established law.  The NG Comprehensive Plan was last updated in 1990; you can find it here on the Town’s website.  The town has undergone dramatic changes since then.

I will be reporting periodically on the work of the Committee, and my first piece is based on an interview with Scott Hastings.  I sat down with him for over an hour on March 20 to talk about the comprehensive plan process and why it is an important project for New Gloucester.

Q.  How was the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee initiated?

Scott explained that back in 2017, the NG Land Management Planning Committee suggested that it was time for a comprehensive plan update. The Board of Selectmen agreed and formed the 14-member Comprehensive Plan Update Committee in December of 2017.   The first meeting was in January 2018 with Scott coordinating the overall process. 

Q.  Why have a Comprehensive Plan?

A town’s comprehensive plan takes stock of where the town is and then sets goals for where the town’s residents want it to be, according to Scott.  It lets us find out exactly what has happened in town since the last plan was written and see how we are doing on the goals from that plan.  The heart of a comprehensive plan is finding ways to continue to build neighborhoods and commercial centers to make the most sense to accommodate and stimulate economic growth and conserve large rural territories as working landscapes and natural gems.

Scott explained that New Gloucester’s Land Management Planning Committee, in particular, needs a current comprehensive plan because they are responsible for drafting zoning ordinances and need to understand what the community’s goals are going forward.  Another example of its use might be for the Parks and Recreation Committee, which could find support for upgraded athletic facilities and services through the comprehensive plan based on public input and survey results. 

Q.  What is the process the Comp Plan Update Committee is using?

The Committee currently meets every two weeks at 6:30 on Thursday evenings at the Meeting House.  The approach is to review the current comprehensive plan and explore a specific topic area so all members start at the same place.  They discuss a topic or two at each meeting.  The substance of the discussions will eventually serve as content for the chapters in the updated plan document.  Scott provides detailed information including maps, graphics of various views of NG (roads, dwellings, water resources, etc.), demographics, the summary of fall 2018 survey results, and other relevant data.  Different NG committees, such as Parks and Recreation, Environmental Resources, and Economic Development, have presented to the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee, and good discussions have ensued between the groups.

 Scott encourages residents to become engaged by attending the meeting or watching the broadcasts.  You can find past meeting materials by going to the Comp Plan Update Committee page on the town website and clicking ‘meeting materials’ by date.  All meetings are televised and archived on the town website.  Scott welcomes all input and is easily reached at shastings@newgloucester.com or 207-926-4126.

Q.  Where is the Committee in the process and what comes next?

At this point, the committee is nearing the end of the review stage and will be moving to drafting chapters and doing more public outreach for the next phase.  Scott will draft many of the chapters with assistance from the Greater Portland Council of Governments and will present drafts to the Committee for more in-depth discussion, revisions, and final approval.

Besides working with the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee, Scott meets with the other NG committees to solicit their feedback on topics, share the Comprehensive Plan Committee perspectives, and understand where there is convergence of views on topics and where there might be differences in thought.  By having many town committees invested from the beginning of the process, Scott believes the final product will be stronger.  After the comprehensive plan is completed, the Board of Selectmen must approve it, and then it goes to the voters for final approval.  A very tentative timeframe for a public vote is the spring of 2020. 

Q.  How much will it cost NG to complete the Comprehensive Plan process?

According to Scott, the expense for New Gloucester will be minor because we are running the process with Town staff and a volunteer committee.  We are not contracting with an outside facilitator.  So far, printing and mailing costs for the public survey have been the biggest expense.  Before the plan is complete, there will be some legal expense to review the final document to ensure that it meets the requirements of Maine law.

Larger municipalities usually hire outside consultants to run the process, Scott says.  For smaller communities like NG, the Greater Portland Council of Governments has resources we can tap.  For instance, the transportation chapter will naturally take a regional approach since major roads wind through New Gloucester and other nearby communities like Gray.  The State prefers that municipalities to look regionally where it makes sense.  A regional approach can help with State block grants, and partnering on projects with the Royal River Conservation Trust or Cumberland County Water Soil and Water is looked upon favorably.  Scott will be working with GPCOG on the transportation chapter and will seek other help as needed.

Q.  How is the project soliciting input from residents who are not on town committees?

In the fall of 2018, each household received a mailer asking them to go to the NG website to take a survey.  There was a reasonable response, according to Scott, and the resulting data and information are being used in the ongoing work.  Four members of the committee are working as a public outreach work group, and they will be making recommendations to the overall committee in the next month.  Scott describes the outreach phase as very important, and the group hopes a large percentage of residents will get engaged. 

Q.  How can the community participate and stay informed? 

Scott urges more residents to get engaged with this important work and give the committee input.  He says that the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee is “very committed” and members are “working diligently, giving long hours to the effort,” and he encourages others to get involved and be heard.  How?  Sign up for email updates on the Town website.  Come hear about the Comp Plan at its outreach events and share your comments.   And feel free to contact Scott directly at shastings@newgloucester.com or 207-926-4126.

                                                            — Reported by Anne Maurice; edited by NGX

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