As of January 26, 2015 Maine DEP completed its rulemaking process to introduce major reforms to Chapter 1000 Guidelines for Municipal Shoreland Zoning Ordinances. The changes come as a response to legislation passed since 2010 calling for more options to tailor regulations to local needs and stakeholder concerns gathered through meetings held since 2011.
At the time of writing of this article, Plymouth is the only municipality in Maine whose ordinance has been approved by Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as being consistent with the 2015 Guidelines (way to go Plymouth!).
REMEMBER! Municipalities that amended their ordinances since 2006 to adopt statewide standards must amend their ordinances to be consistent with the 2015 Guidelines. While the DEP Commissioner has not yet issued a deadline for making ordinances consistent with the 2015 Guidelines, there is an important reason to consider an update in your community: municipalities can make use of the flexibilities now available in the 2015 Guidelines and tailor ordinances to meet local needs.
If your community chooses not to adopt amendments to local shoreland zoning that are consistent with the new Guidelines, the Board of Environmental Protection has the authority to adopt the required standards for the municipality, who would then be required to administer and enforce the new regulations. Since there is time with no deadline currently looming, municipalities should take advantage of this opportunity and craft an ordinance tailored to local goals.
There are numerous clarifications and corrections incorporated into the 2015 Guidelines. Major revisions to standards within the shoreland zone have been made to the following:
- Nonconforming structures
- Timber harvesting
- Non-vegetated surfaces
- Disability variances
- Shoreline stabilization
- Structures and uses extending over, or located below, the shoreline
The new nonconforming structure expansion language has generated a lot of interest! The 2015 provisions limit the expansions of nonconforming structures based on footprint (by square footage or percentage, whichever allows more expansion) and height, instead of floor area and volume.
Any ordinance that is not consistent with the 2015 Guidelines is not considered consistent with the Statewide Standards for Timber Harvesting and Related Activates in Shoreland Areas (SWS). Compliant SWS are needed for a municipality to receive assistance from the Maine Forestry Service (MFS) for the regulation of forestry activities. Municipalities that have not amended their ordinances to comply with SWS or have a state-imposed ordinance are responsible for enforcing these non-compliant ordinances without MFS assistance.
There are many changes related to clearing or removing vegetation. Among the most significant includes the 2006 shift from the 25’ by 25’ plot system to a 25’ by 50’ revegetation plot system. The old system required landowners to maintain vegetation points in any plot; while onerous on the landowner, it makes investigating violations easier on CEOs. With the new 25’ by 50’ system, the landowner must lay out plots in the area to be thinned adjacent to one another without overlap. Fewer plots are needed making it easier for the landowner, but when investigating violations this is more onerous on CEOs, who now have to match the plots that were laid out by the landowner. Regardless of which system is used locally, the provisions must preserve a certain number of saplings per plot. In addition to the plot system changes in the 2015 Guidelines require amended ordinances to include specific standards for the removal of hazardous, dead, and storm-damaged trees, including revegetation requirements. The exemptions provisions in the 2015 Guidelines have also been substantially modified.
RESOURCES TO HELP UPDATE YOUR ORDINANCE
DEP is providing a variety of resources to help you successfully update local shoreland zoning ordinances to comply with the 2015 Guidelines.
Every year, shoreland zoning staff members present annual trainings. This year the training schedule will provide tailored options for the varying levels of experience and responsibility of local officials:
2015 Guidelines Training Online: There will be an online training on April 23 starting at 1:00PM. Part 1 of the training will briefly cover the new provisions in the 2015 Guidelines and detail the amendment process. This training can also be viewed online at a later time. More details are available through the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).
Basic Training Online: Part 2 of the online training will be an overview of shoreland zoning basics. You may participate live at the time of the event or view the discussion online at a later time. More details are available through the DECD.
Workshops on 2015 Guidelines: DEP staff will also be available in-person during scheduled workshops across the state. Local officials such as planning board members, in addition to code enforcement officers, are encouraged to attend:
- Raymond, Public Safety Building: May 7 from 9:00AM to 12:00PM
- Augusta, Florian Hall: May 28 from 9:00AM to 12:00PM, Register at 8:30AM
- Caribou, NMDC: June 24 from 10:00AM to 12:00PM, Register by email
- Lincoln, Region III: June 25 from 10:00AM to 12:00PM, Register by email
Field Workshops for Code Enforcement Officers: A few field workshops will also be offered this year, some in conjunction with the above Workshops on 2015 Guidelines. The field exercises will demonstrate application of both current standards and new provisions of the 2015 Guidelines. These workshops are primarily intended for code enforcement officers.
- Raymond, Public Safety Building: May 7 from 1:00PM to 4:00PM
- Caribou, NMDC: June 24 from 1:00PM to 4:00PM, Register by email
- Lincoln, Region III: June 25 from 1:00PM to 4:00PM, Register by email
- Milbridge, Town Office: June 26 from 9:00AM to 12:00PM
- Greenville, Town Office: June 29 from 1:00PM to 4:00PM
TOP TIPS FROM SHORELAND ZONING STAFF:
1. Contact shoreland zoning staff early in the amendment drafting process, and clarify:
a. whether you are drafting certain amendments or updating the entire ordinance to comply with 2015 Guidelines,
b. how soon you would like to hold a public hearing and adopt amendments
c. who will be involved (planning board, committee, council) and who will be the appointed drafter, and
d. whether officials need more information about options to make decisions on the ordinance amendments
2. Send DEP draft ordinance language for an informal review
3. Ensure that copies of your ordinance and accompanying maps are attested by the Clerk once it is adopted locally before mailing them to your DEP representative
4. Make clear what you are changing. If you are submitting certain amendments include the relevant warrant articles or a copy of the ordinance with tracked changes. If you are updating the entire ordinance to 2015 Guidelines, include a cover letter stating that purpose.
5. Your order of approval or conditional approval will be issued within 45 days. Good planning and early involvement of DEP staff members will help avoid an order of denial from the department.
For more information, visit the Department of Environmental Protection website and contact the department for more details.
Thanks to Stephenie MacLagan at Maine DEP for her contributions to this article.
Milan Nevajda, Planner, Planning Decisions, Inc.