Paris selectmen address rural lot size requirements

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PARIS — At their regular meeting Monday night, selectmen opted to host a workshop in January to address some unresolved issues in town, including rural lot sizes as dictated through the town’s Comprehensive Plan, the future of the Mildred M. Fox School and the Budget Committee ordinance.

The workshop will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 5 at the Town Office at 33 Market Square.

The idea for a workshop stemmed from the selectmen’s meeting on Nov. 24, when the board split on accepting the Comprehensive Plan Amendment Committee’s rural residential lot-size recommendation of one-half acre and 100 feet of roadside frontage.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Ryan Lorrain and Selectman Sam Eliot voted for the smaller lot size recommendation — which is the current state minimum — with Board of Selectmen Vice Chairman Robert Wessels and Selectman Janet Jamison casting dissenting votes.

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“I think it would be a good idea to try to move things forward to try to come up with a plan so we can get something presented to the public so they can vote on it,” Lorrain said Monday night. “We’re at a crossroads here as far as how things ended up.”

The Comprehensive Plan Amendment Committee was formed this fall since the town’s plan, passed by voters in 2007, must align with its Land Use Ordinance, which hasn’t come before voters yet. Currently, the comprehensive plan requires residential rural lot sizes be at least two acres with 200 feet of roadside frontage.

At a public hearing in February, many of the landowners in attendance were against the larger rural lot size. Committee members stayed with their original smaller lot size recommendation because it met state standards, and they didn’t want to tell people what they could and could not do with their land. 

At the most recent public hearing in the beginning of November, virtually all of the 20 or so people in attendance agreed to a one-acre, 150-foot roadside frontage compromise, citing the importance of keeping South Paris’ rural character. The will of the people was why Wessels and Jamison voted against the Comprehensive Plan Amendment Committee’s recommendation, they said at the Nov. 24 meeting.

At Monday’s meeting, Town Manager Amy Bernard cited the Mildred M. Fox School and Budget Committee ordinance as issues the board might want to take up during its workshop next month.

“You need to decide whether or not you want the building,” she told selectmen about the school.

The two-story building, located at 10 East Main St., is owned by School Administrative District 17 and is home to Oxford Hills Christian Academy. SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts previously said that the school board was exploring its options with the building’s future now that the central office is located in Western Maine Community College building on the campus of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.

The original plan had been to move SAD 17 administration into the Mildred M. Fox School, but now the board is considering offering it to the town, since the town owned it in the 1960s. Offering it to the town first is required under state statute.

“Isn’t that based on what we want to do with it?” Elliot asked Monday night.

Bernard concurred and he asked for an appraisal of building’s worth. While selectmen are unsure of what they’d do with the building if the town were to reacquire it, Sandy Swett, whom the town hired to pen its new strategic plan, recommended it be turned into a center for the arts, modeled after the one in Belfast.

As for the Budget Committee ordinance, Bernard said after Monday’s meeting it’s something the board has discussed for about a year. The ordinance, which was passed in 1991, requires 19 members on the committee, five of whom are municipal officers. The remaining 14 are to be appointed by the municipal officers.

“We just have a lot of people on there and we have a hard time filling those spots,” she said. “I think the last time we discussed it … we talked about reducing the number of people on the Budget Committee ordinance.”

Bernard added she gave selectmen other towns’ ordinances for their Budget Committees to consider when addressing South Paris’ ordinance.

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