On March 18th, Terry DeWan, current Chair of the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee (CPUC), opened the formal public hearing on the proposed comprehensive plan (CP). He mentioned that the committee had been meeting for three years with over forty meetings and had heard from many residents along the way. He began by asking the committee members to introduce themselves and give a little background as to why they participated. Many expressed they served because they cared about the town, and Rebecca Klotzle echoed several by stating she volunteered to help “shape how New Gloucester continues into the future.” Terry summed up by observing that together the CPUC had “close to 300 years of experience and dedication”. Before turning the public hearing facilitation over to Scott Hastings, the town planner, he grounded everyone by reading this paragraph from page three of the proposed Comprehensive Plan.
“This plan will serve as a guiding document over the next decade. It identifies shared values and priorities that shape who and what the Town of New Gloucester is along with goals for what we want to be in the future. The plan outlines potential strategies for achieving these goals, with local champions responsible for ensuring that they will be pursued. This plan is not etched in stone, unchangeable; it is intended to be a starting point, not an end in itself. There will always be shifts and unexpected events. The ideas in this plan will be evaluated for effectiveness and appropriateness as they are implemented.”
Before residents spoke, Scott provided a brief overview of the process. He explained that the CPUC explored New Gloucester through lenses including the economy, population, farming, recreation, natural resources and others. A good list of the inventory topics can be found in the table of contents on page two. He further explained that the CP is a vision of our shared values and describes what we want to be and how we want to get there using the goals and strategies as outlined in the plan.
During the public hearing, Beverly and Dick Cadigan thanked the community members for investing their time. Charles Gauvin commented that he and his wife appreciate the “commitment to the rural attributes of the town.” Rachel Spencer-Reed thanked the committee for including language of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Penny Hilton said that the “document was impressive.” She wanted to know how it will be referenced or will it just be filed. Scott emphasized that the CP will be the guiding document for the Board of Selectmen (BOS), staff and all town committees. Terry added that the CPUC does not “want this to be a dusty document.”
Penny also made two suggestions for consideration. She advocated that the library be more prominently used as “part of the town’s toolbox.” Secondly, she stated she was “unsatisfied with the commitment to the farm economy.” She would like to see more specific focus on farmland in the document.
After the public hearing, Scott opened discussion with the CPUC by asking, “Are we ready? Is it done?” Committee members reflected on what they heard. Steve Chandler felt that both forestry and farmland were addressed well in the CP. Julie Fralich suggested that a quick language change to include more prominence for farmland might be possible. Scott explained that the committee was down to the wire to move the CP to the board of selectmen (BOS) for review and inclusion on the warrant for a vote at the next town meeting. Julie mused that the public hearing comments were “consistent with our language and what we discussed” and she wanted to somehow acknowledge them. Terry advanced the idea for a cover letter attached to the CP to summarize the public comments for the BOS. General agreement ensued and the Committee moved to discuss the possible need for a legal review, which will be up to the BOS. The two attorneys and the planner did not see legal review as necessary, since it is not a legal document.
Steve Chandler made a motion to move the CP to the BOS and the CPUC unanimously approved the proposed plan. The BOS now has the responsibility to move the CP to a vote through a warrant – hopefully the one that will be voted on in June. The select board will make that determination at their April 5th meeting.