Growing as a town,

Published 9:18 am Sunday, November 9, 2008

By Staff
not a retirement haven
As the Bath Board of Commissioners considers new zoning regulations for the town’s business districts, we would like to urge them to remember that sparkle of conventional wisdom: Everybody can’t be retired.
The Board of Commissioners is reworking a proposal that was narrowly passed by the Bath Planning Board to revise zoning rules in the town’s business districts — essentially rewriting the list of businesses allowed in town. The commissioners already have done a good job of toning down the fairly restrictive version that came out of the Planning Board, but a little more remains to be done.
It’s important to remember that the initial proposal had only limited support at the Planning Board. It was passed because the Planning Board thought the commissioners were in a rush to see a proposal and with the assumption that it would likely be revised by the commissioners.
The commissioners don’t seem to have been in much of a rush, actually, and they seemed unenthusiastic about some of the rougher aspects of the initial proposal.
But since then, they’ve met with the Planning Board and hashed through the proposal, making it much more palatable.
The contribution of town staff members can’t be overlooked either: They rewrote the Planning Board’s proposal to make it more likely to stand up in court, and they did an excellent job.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the proposed ban on restaurants in the historic district that was in the first draft of the proposed regulations. The ban was aimed at fast-food establishments, and tratorias, coffee shops and other types of eateries were still allowed. But many seemed unsure what exactly a tratoria is, and thought good, old-fashioned restaurants ought to be allowed in the town. Commissioners said as much at their meeting.
So, the staff took a crack at rewriting the provision, and what emerged was a likely limit on restaurant seating and ban on drive-throughs. That’s a much better way to keep fast-food eateries out of Bath.
The biggest issue on the table now is a restriction on the density of development in the historic part of town. Right now, the proposal calls for a limit of four units per acre.
That’s an unnecessary restriction. The area in question is tiny, and the lots there are tiny. Any development there would require approval for septic systems, and it would have to include enough parking to meet town standards.
There also would likely be stormwater regulations effecting potential buildings.
These restrictions already effectively limit the degree to which lots can be developed.
There’s nothing wrong with having more than four offices on one acre, if they’re used by professionals who have few or no clients visit their actual premises.
Four grocery stores on an acre of land simply couldn’t meet parking requirements.
What Bath needs now is some growth. Friday’s edition of the Washington Daily News included reminisces of Robert Coleman Gibbs, who grew up in Bath. He remembered boating on the creek, to be sure, but he also remembered going to the movies.
That’s not something residents of the town can do, right now. It’s the only population center in a large area of countryside, so it’s the logical spot for new businesses to sprout up.
The town is more than 300 years old, which is to say that it has roughly one resident per year of history. But the decisions its governing boards make have influence far out of proportion to that tiny population. It’s important for all of us that Bath grow and thrive, and the way to make sure that happens is allow some actual growth.