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Lisbon passes law restricting Planning Board oversight

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LISBON – The Town Council approved an amendment to the site plan review law allowing the code enforcement officer to give building permits for single family dwellings without consulting the Planning Board.

The amended law will be reviewed by the state and official adopted within the next several weeks.

The Council also approved two new members to the Planning Board, William E. Wheeler and Mark Hyde at Wednesday’s Council meeting. Planning Board Member Glen Harris has yet to officially resign, despite the fact that he has not attended Planning Board meetings since October 2012.

Lisbon attorney Charles B. Nash said the law passed at Wednesday’s meeting gives the code enforcement officer more freedom.

“The building permit was always issued by the code enforcement officer,” he said, “but now it doesn’t have to go through the site plan review process.”

Town Councilor Susan M. Duffy said the new law will make the process of approving new building projects more accessible and won’t waste the time of the all-volunteer Planning Board.

Ms. Duffy said the code enforcement officer is responsible for knowing the state building laws, not the Planning Board.

“I think it’s a waste of time for people to volunteer and come out,” Ms. Duffy said, “and they don’t know the laws.”

But Ms. Duffy said there should be a better way for people to appeal the decision of the code enforcement officer.

The new law, as with the old law, requires people appeal to the state Supreme Court if they disagree with the decision of the code enforcement officer.

“There should be a better way to appeal,” Ms. Duffy said. “We shouldn’t have to make a landowner go out and spend money on lawyers; they should be spending their money on engineers…. It’s crazy and it’s not fair.

The Town Council will consider a localized appeals process at an undetermined future meeting.

Planning Board Member Steven Jemison said, “I could see having some sort of recourse to the Planning Board where [an appeal] doesn’t have to go to a judge…. [The Planning Board can be] a liaison to the community.”

Mr. Jemison, however, said the town should consider hiring a full time code enforcement officer.

Code Enforcement Officer Christopher J. Sherwin is currently working 12 hours a week for Lisbon.

Last year Mr. Sherwin attended three Planning Board meetings.

“For the record,” Mr. Sherwin said, “I’m not obligated to attend Planning Board meetings.”

Town Supervisor James W. Armstrong said increasing Mr. Sherwin’s hours should be part of next year’s budget deliberations.

Town Councilor Alan D. Dailey said he is supportive of increasing Mr. Sherwin’s hours if there is community support. “As long as people know that if we do that we’re putting a bigger tax burden on ourselves.”

Ms. Duffy said the town should also continue to pursue changing the site plan review law further to remove the one-acre minimum requirement for new building.

The requirement equates to “detrimental zoning” on the part of the town, Ms. Duffy said.

Mr. Nash said, “The site plan review law is not supposed to be zoning,” and agreed that the one-acre minimum may be acting as de-facto zoning for the town of Lisbon.

Discussions regarding the one-acre minimum requirement were also held for an undetermined future meeting, but Mr. Dailey said he is against revising the law.

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