Higgins Beach Zoning Repair Wins Award
November 17, 2016 Somerville, MA – The New England Chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism awarded the Town of Scarborough Office of Planning & Code Enforcement, and the Principle Group (planning consultant) a 2016 Urbanism Award. The team was recognized for its efforts to develop a form-based code that would help resolve difficulties that homeowners at Higgins Beach often encountered when trying to make improvements to their dwellings under the former conventional zoning that was in place for decades.
Under the old zoning, which required lots to be 10,000 sq. ft. and have 75 feet of street frontage, nearly all lots at Higgins Beach, most being 50 ft. by 100 ft., were non-conforming. Dwellings were required to have a 30 ft. front yard setback and a 15 ft. side and rear yard setback. Unfortunately for most properties, the existing homes and cottages were located close to the street and side property lines, making them non-conforming as well. More often than not, property owners seeking a small addition, deck, or other improvement, had to file a zoning “variance” appeal with the Scarborough Board of Appeals, who would review the project to determine if it met strict variance criteria in order to receive approval. This created unnecessary costs and delays for homeowners, and placed an extraordinary burden of cases on the Board of Appeals. The end result of the variances that were granted were structural additions that looked out of place and replacement structures that were located to the middle and rear of the lots, contrary to historic character and pattern of Higgins Beach.
Through a very public process involving Higgins Beach property owners, designers, regulatory agency representatives, and the Town, the planning consultant Principle Group worked with the Scarborough Office of Planning & Codes to develop an ordinance that was “character-based” to “repair” the damage that traditional zoning had been doing to the historic character that was native to Higgins Beach. The new code allowed for a smaller lot size and more historically consistent placement of structures on the lots. It also included standards for building “components” such as porches, balconies, decks, dormers, and additions to guide their dimensions and placement on the dwellings. Through the development of a code that was more reflective of the established development patterns and housing styles, the Town was able to dramatically reduce the number of variance appeals, while streamlining the permitting process for Higgins Beach homeowners. The Higgins Beach Character Based Ordinance can be found on the Town website at http://www.scarboroughmaine.org/departments/planning-codes/higgins-beachresource-site The Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) is a national organization of professionals focused on creating vibrant, well-designed, and walkable cities, towns, and neighborhoods that are unique and authentic. In short, CNU’s mission is to help build and/or maintain the character of places like Higgins Beach where people want to live and visit.
On hand to accept the award for the Town of Scarborough at the ceremony held in Somerville, MA were Planning Director Dan Bacon and Zoning Administrator Brian Longstaff, along with Principle Group members Russell Preston, Kara Wilbur, and Scott Douglass.