DAMARISCOTTA — The fate of a moratorium on all development in Damariscotta is in the hands of voters after two public hearings on the subject.

The referendum asks voters to decide whether or not the town should pursue a moratorium on all development, which would be retroactive to June 7 and last until Dec. 4. The referendum is the result of a petition, which got the required number of signatures, that was approved by the select board on Sept. 19.

The petition initially got off to a rocky start, when the town’s attorney determined that the signatures on it were invalid due to the absence of a town of residence on each signature. The petition was later approved after the information was added.

The petition itself states that the town is “suddenly under threat of increased development pressure from large-scale retail development.” It also states that the town’s current land use ordinance wasn’t adequate for handling the developmental pressure.

Jenny Begin, one of the circulators of the petition, said she initiated the process to have a “pause” in development after the recent approval of a project on Main Street that will create both a Dollar General and a Sherwin-Williams store. That development received six waivers from the planning board.

“There was a sense among people that something had gone wrong, with this last development that had just slid through,” said Begin. “Which if you read our ordinances, is not the type of development that should have been allowed under our existing ordinances.”

Begin, and other supporters, expressed the belief that the codes needed to be made more robust to ensure that rapid development doesn’t push out smaller businesses, like those in the downtown area.

Kimberly Sampson, another resident who circulated the petition, said she felt like it was an emergency after she felt powerless to stop the Dollar General/Sherwin-Williams development.

“I felt like there was nothing that I could do,” she said. “I wasn’t educated enough to know that I might have been able to stop them then.”

Her reasoning is similar to Begin’s, in that the moratorium would act as a pause to give time to a recently created committee to examine form-based codes and evaluate whether the town’s current coding is up to standard.

Opponents of the referendum, however, don’t see any reason to have a moratorium at all. Former Select Board member Joshua Pinkham said the town has been very proactive in the designing of its land use codes.

“We haven’t sat there and waited for something to happen,” said Pinkham. “People came to collaborate on the land use codes from all different aspects of this community.”

He asserted that the town worked hard to create a robust land use code that gave the planning board a lot of power to alter projects as Damariscotta wants or needs. “We have a strong document to go on in this town,” he said. “Why are we going to hold up development when we have a strong site plan review?”

Other residents saw the moratorium as a direct attack on the latest development proposal. The development, brought before the town by Daniel Catlin, would consist of three buildings at 435 Main Street that are 2,700, 5,525, and 22,000 square feet.

Jeff Pierce, owner of the property, said that the push back against development seemed to be an attack on the aesthetics of one building, specifically the 5,525-square-foot building, rather than development as a whole.

“This does seem to be more about aesthetics and facades,” said Pierce.

The building in question has since been redesigned by Catlin, and most planning board members stated it looked “much better.”

Regardless, the final say on whether or not to have a moratorium is in the hands of the voters. After the second public hearing on Oct. 17, Select Board Chair Robin Mayer encouraged residents to vote how they saw fit.

For a full copy of the proposed moratorium, visit www.damariscottame.com.

filed under: