2015-05-22 / In the Know

Zoning repair proposed for Higgins Beach

By Dan Bacon Special to the Leader

Higgins Beach is one of the jewels of Scarborough. From the beautiful beach and recreational opportunities it provides to the close-knit cottage community and the character and social activity it creates, Higgins is a special place.

It’s no wonder that longtime owners and new buyers alike are increasingly interested in investing in the older summer cottages from circa 1920 and are pursuing larger homes for three to four season living or for additional space for guests, family and the like.

This isn’t a new trend, but in recent years the pace and pattern of new additions, renovations and teardowns and rebuilds have been steady, exposing the shortcomings of the development code and permitting process.

In short, the current zoning isn’t a good fit for the smaller lots and the compact pattern of cottages and homes. Higgins was laid out and developed in the early 1900s as a fairly consistent grid of cottage lots back before zoning existed.

Since then, in the 1960s or so, more suburban zoning requirements have been imposed that require larger lots and more generous building setbacks, making virtually all lots and buildings “non-conforming.”

This zoning disconnect makes it challenging for property owners to pursue additions, renovations or new construction and cause most any project to seek special appeals and variances by the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, which can be an awkward and cumbersome process.

The town’s Long Range Planning Committee, Planning and Code Enforcement staff, and the Higgins Beach Civic Committee are interested in exploring a better way to structure our zoning to enable additions, renovations and rebuilds at Higgins in a manner that is clear, predictable, and in keeping with the character and “form” of Higgins Beach.

In short, we want to help “repair” the zoning, and want to explore and develop a “form-based” zoning code that is geared to respect the history, character, and form of development at Higgins Beach.

To get this right, we plan to dive deep into the community and character of Higgins Beach, and spend time listening, learning and discussing with area property owners, residents, town officials and the general public and get their thoughts and ideas on what makes the Higgins Beach neighborhood special.

Because it’s a seasonal community, we will be doing this over an early June weekend (Friday, June 5 through Sunday, June 7) in hopes of getting as much participation and input as possible from both yearround and seasonal property owners.

This multi-day event on June 5–7 will be conducted right in Higgins Beach at 18 Houghton St., to get as much local participation as possible and so that we can learn and experience the neighborhood firsthand.

The meeting and workshops over this special weekend are designed to be a very engaging, inclusive and thoughtful process, and we invite widespread participation.

For more details, check the town’s website at www.scarboroughmaine.org/Higgins Beach Zoning Repair. Dan Bacon is planning director for Scarborough.

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