At a joint meeting between the Kittery Planning Board and Town Council, Town Council Chairman Charles Denault discusses a zoning amendment to allow larger inns with as many as 30 rooms to be built in Foreside. Credit: Alex LaCasse | Portsmouth Herald

There were more questions than answers regarding a proposed zoning ordinance to allow for inns with up to 30 rooms to be permitted in the Foreside when members of the Kittery Planning Board joined the Town Council for a joint workshop on Monday night.

After a hour-long discussion between members of both bodies, participants could not arrive at a consensus as to how to move forward and ultimately decided to send the proposal back to the Planning Board to weigh additional solutions such as contract or form-based zoning so a developer could have more freedom in designing a piece of property but also gives the Planning Board more control and input in any project development to the town’s liking.

“We have to do our best to make sure the town has adequate protections for whatever happens in the Foreside or other areas of the community,” said Councilor Jeffrey Thomson. “At the moment I have no opinion whether I would support an inn or not support an inn or other similar types of development if the zoning was to come before the council… I regret that the Planning Board attempted to make this kind of decision with a short board, now that it has full membership, I would recommend to the council that this matter is not ready for primetime.”

The proposed ordinance was drafted by the representative of Wallingford Square LLC, the entity owning the Wallingford Square Building at 60-68 Wallingford Square and appeared in front of the Planning Board on six separate occasions dating back to the spring. During the final meeting on Nov. 9, following the resignation of former board member Marissa Day, a six-member board voted 3-3 to not recommend the zoning change, though no elected or volunteer boards’ decisions take effect without four votes.

At the Town Council’s Nov. 27 meeting, the body voted to postpone voting on the draft ordinance until workshops with the Planning Board, business owners, Foreside residents and other stakeholders are held.

“We keep attaching the project to the ordinance, you have to be able to compartmentalize the two different things, because as proposed, we’re creating the possibility a large inn could be in the Foreside; that’s all that the ordinance does at this point,” Planning Board member Dutch Dunkelberger said. “If the ordinance was passed then the project would again have to go through the Planning Board review to see if it was appropriate.”

Planning Board Chairwoman Ann Grinnell said some of the board’s concerns with the proposal were the size and scale a 30-room inn would have on the Foreside and it was difficult to address the zoning change in the context of one project and make a determination that would impact the entire district.

“I didn’t really find any benefits to having a 30-room (inn) allowed in this zone. I didn’t see it in any of the comprehensive plans, I didn’t see it in the Foreside forum, it doesn’t seem to be pursuant or consistent with whatever comprehensive plan we’re operating under now; to have a large 30-unit inn in the Foreside, whether it’s in the main drag or some side street. I think the massing of a building that has 30 units in it, is not appropriate,” said Grinnell. “I do worry when I see what happened to Portsmouth, we all know what Portsmouth looked like 10 or 20 years ago and they have a huge tax base now, but their property taxes went up, so we don’t want that to happen.”

Members of both bodies lamented that the entire process seemed to be backwards with respect to having to adjust the zoning ordinance on behalf of one applicant before a specific inn proposal could be reviewed by the Planning Board.

“The applicant has this notion that this thing they want to do is a natural evolution of the development of the Foreside,” recently appointed Planning Board member Ron Ledgett said. “The impetus seems to be that the town is obligated to follow their lead on it. In fact the town, has no obligation to pass this request, in part because it doesn’t satisfy the comprehensive plan or the Foreside study.”

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