PARIS — A five-member committee voted unanimously Wednesday to keep its original recommendation that future lot sizes in rural parts of town be a minimum of half an acre, despite some residents asking for twice that size. 

In the last chapter in the debate over enacting proposed zoning laws, Comprehensive Plan Amendment Committee members, most of of them large landowners, disagreed with the intent of encumbering property owners any more than they had to. 

“I see it as a philosophical difference,” Chairman David Shaw said. 

In September, selectmen tasked the committee with giving a recommendation on the size of future lots in rural parts of town.

The committee responded three days later with a recommendation that town officials align their rules with the state and make a half-acre the minimum across the board.

However, that decision appeared to be in question after residents who attended a public hearing last week told the committee half an acre was too small. In an impromptu vote, some 20 residents unanimously raised their hands in support of a one-acre minimum. Afterward, the committee agreed to take a second look

No local ordinance has been passed enacting minimum lot size. The town abides by the state requirement of half an acre. Some residents support a zoning ordinance, which would create five unique zoning districts, each with different lot size requirements. 

Noting the committee’s decision was contrary to what residents had asked, Shaw said it would make little practical difference. 

“It’s really a nonissue: developers don’t want to make half-acre lots,” he said.  

For over an hour, the committee members debated among themselves and with resident Kathy Richardson and Town Manager Amy Bernard. 

The minimum lot size has been billed as a means of conserving the town’s rustic, rural character. Though municipalities are required to pass zoning laws, those that do must abide by the Comprehensive Plan.

Paris adopted one in 2007 requiring, among a multitude of standards, new lots in rural parts of town be a minimum of two acres. 

As residents debated the zoning ordinance this past spring, that stipulation proved a sticking point because some felt it hurt businesses and was burdensome to property owners. To garner support for the zoning law, selectmen agreed to form a committee to amend the law to something less than two acres.   

Committee member Howard Field said each proposed zoning district should have the same acreage stipulations, offering the hypothetical example of a parent wishing to subdivide their land to pass down a half-acre to their children. 

“We don’t want to tell people what they can and can’t do with their land,” Field said. 

Bernard said the town needed to address zoning before population changes shaped the town for them. 

“I can tell you looking at the statisticians … this is the only area that is going to grow in the next 40 years. The rest of Oxford County won’t,” Bernard said.

She said it was not immediately clear whether the vote bound selectmen to adopt the changes, forcing the amendment to go to voters for approval.

Committee member Robert Ripley said the law sought to control a problem that had yet to arise. 

“We’ve had this building code since the 1970s without a problem … My point is: where’s the boogeyman,” he said.

Richardson, who has been an outspoken proponent of zoning laws, vigorously disagreed with that rationale.   

“It’s a philosophical difference. We’re going to have to listen to the voters,” Richardson said. 

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