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Zoning changes clarify agricultural open space, create district for cell-phone tower

The Town Council on Aug. 14, 2017 approved an amendment to the zoning ordinance clarifying the definition of land that may be preserved for agriculture as part of open-space development.

Councilors voted 6-1 to approve the amendment. The current definition references state farm land tax-law requirements, which include a minimum size of 5 acres. The amendment adds that Cape's preserved farm land should be part of a parcel that meet the state's requirements, even if it does not independently meet all the criteria.

The amendment was proposed by the Planning Board, which has been reviewing a condominium/apartment complex proposed for the vicinity of Spurwink Avenue and Aster Lane. Developer Joel Fitzpatrick is hoping to preserve 2 acres of farmland, owned by Bill and Lois Bamford as part of the Maxwell Farm, under an agricultural easement provision that was added to open-space zoning in 2015.

Under an agricultural easement, the Bamfords would still own and farm the property, but their use and that of any future owners would be restricted to farming.

During its review, Planning Board members believed the 2-acre lot met the definition of farm land under the current ordinance, but proposed an amendment to make the ordinance more clear and to strengthen the town's legal position if the easement were challenged. They proposed the amendment and held a public hearing in June, anticipating it could take effect before final review of the development. On July 10 the Town Council referred the proposal to its ordinance subcommittee, which had already placed it on the agenda for its noon meeting the following day.

Speakers at a public hearing Aug. 14 urged the council to slow down.

"I think it's premature for you to be voting on this tonight, there are many, many unanswered questions," said Mitchell Road resident Becky Fernald, who said a letter signed by 111 residents supporting that view had been submitted to the council. "If we truly believe in preserving significant and viable farm land in our town, I think there are much better ways to do that, and we need as a community to come up with the best thinking," she said. "Rushing this through is not going to do that."

Waumbek Road resident Jim Morra also urged the council to send the amendment back to committee to review at a time when more working residents could attend. He added, "I'd like to see the ordinance change have some sort of wording that would specify that open space is more useful to residents when it is open to the public."

Town councilors acknowledged the fast track, but also that proper notice had been given for all meetings and hearings. "Being very concerned about process as I am, I'm actually very comfortable with this situation because everything was properly noticed and put on agenda items," said Councilor Jessica Sullivan. "The town's policy for trying to preserve agricultural space is a very strong policy, I think that this is a very reasonable thing to do and I honestly don't see a down side for the town."

Fitzpatrick's representatives have indicated that if the 2 acres do not legally qualify for an agricultural easement, he will offer the land as simple open space without the agricultural protection. The acreage is part of a total 8 acres being offered as open space, or 46 percent of the development. No density bonus is associated with the easement.

The Planning Board is looking to deem the development's application for final approval complete at its Sept. 19 meeting. The ordinance amendment goes into effect Sept. 13.

Voting against the amendment was Councilor Sara Lennon.

Cell-phone tower zoning approved

Councilors on Aug. 17 also approved a zoning request from Global Signal Acquisitions IV LLC (Crown Castle) to allow a cell-phone tower on Jordan Farm property at 19 Wells Road. The company is looking to move equipment from a tower on Strout Road to a new, 180-foot monopole tower on the neighboring Jordan property.

The tower would house antennas from Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T, as well as Cape Elizabeth Public Safety communications.

Plans for the tower still need approval from the Planning Board.

The Planning Board is also reviewing a separate application from the Strout family to consolidate and upgrade existing towers at 14 Strout Road. Board members have scheduled a site visit for Aug. 30, and a public hearing for the plan on Sept. 19.