Planning Board Looks at Downtown Ordinance

By Kaileigh Deacon


The Calais Planning Board met last Tuesday to discuss the downtown building ordinance, Chapter 9. The Board assumed responsibility for the Ordinance at the last City Council meeting. 

The Ordinance has been under scrutiny as of late as the city looks at revitalizing the Calais downtown area. The goal of looking at the Ordinance is to determine whether or not it is usable as is or if it needs to be scrapped and a new ordinance drafted. 

The Board and the community members in attendance looked at the four sections of the Ordinance separately so they can determine what works and what doesn’t. The Board welcomed input from the galley ignoring their more strict meeting procedures. 

The first issue discussed was the fact that the code as it stands is near impossible to enforce. The current code reflects an all or nothing structure. In order for the code enforcer to bring a building owner into compliance they have to address every issue that is against the ordinance rather than just the more manageable ones. Board Chair and City Counselor Chris Bernardini suggested looking into creating a tier system for code enforcement. 

The tier system would allow the enforcer to address small issues with the building owner while working toward the bigger ones. Most building owners downtown don’t have the resources to fix everything that is wrong with their buildings at once; this tier system would allow them to bring their buildings into compliance over time at a pace they can afford. 

The next issue was the actual zone distinctions. Currently the zone runs from Main Street up past Washington Street. While this covers the area in question it also covers several residential areas like High Street requiring in effect these residential buildings to maintain the same requirements as the commercial buildings. 

It was discussed shrinking the area covered by the Downtown Ordinance including just the commercial buildings downtown. City Manager Diane Barnes and Councilor Anne Nixon both suggested looking at the zone and creating two distinctive business zones to keep all business in Calais up. One area would be the Downtown zone and the second would be just a general business district including the other business areas of Calais like South Street and North Street. 

The final issue discussed was the standards the Ordinance calls for.  Board member Dick Ramsey pointed out that the Ordinance requires standards like all the windows being the same size and same style in the building. Having restrictions like that limit the building owner in what can be done and making it more difficult to maintain the building. If one window were to be broken and it was a specific style which is no longer in production, to be compliance with the ordinance the owner would have to find a non-existent window or replace all the windows. 

At the end of the meeting the Board decided to meet again to discuss the Ordinance before presenting their suggestions to the Council. In their March 18 meeting they will resume their typical meeting structure and go over each section of the Ordinance in detail, sketching out ideas for areas that need improvement. The Board hopes to have suggestions ready to present to the Council at their March 28 meeting.