In this Sept. 7, 2021, file photo, Planning Board chair Ken Huhn speaks at a meeting at Bangor City Hall. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

The Bangor Planning Board has unanimously voted down a zoning change that would allow homeless shelters in city zones meant for government and institutional buildings amid widespread opposition from residents.

Planning Board members made the decision in a 7-0 vote at a meeting on Tuesday night amid concerns about the proximity of future shelters to other city facilities, especially schools. The zoning change, which was first discussed by the board earlier this month, will next go before the City Council, which can choose to accept the board’s recommendation or override it.

The zoning change would allow the building of homeless shelters in Bangor’s Government and Institutional Services District, which is scattered across the city. It would also ensure that shelters in that zone are no longer non-conforming to code, which currently restricts changes or expansion to those facilities because they’re not listed as an allowed use in the Government and Institutional Services District.

While there is no specific request for a new homeless shelter in Bangor, the vote took place in anticipation of a “possible request” from Penobscot Community Health Care on its use of the Ramada Inn hotel on Odlin Road as a shelter, according to Planning Board documents. While the federal government has extended funding for the hotel to be used as a shelter through the end of the year, its long-term status is unclear.

Bangor resident Dominick Rizzo suggested that the city require setbacks on shelters, similar to what city rules require of marijuana retail stores. Those setbacks would keep the shelters apart from schools, public parks and places for worship, Rizzo said. 

Planning Board Chair Ken Huhn said he was not opposed to such a plan given residents’ concerns about shelters’ proximity to other buildings. Other Planning Board members, including Reese Perkins and Lisa Shaw, cited the potential proximity of shelters to schools as their reason for voting against adoption of the zoning change. 

Now, a two-thirds supermajority will be needed for the change to pass the City Council given that the Planning Board voted that it “ought not to pass,” City Planner Anne Krieg said. A simple majority would have been needed if the Planning Board had recommended that it pass. 

David Green, who spoke at the board’ first hearing earlier in September, returned for the second session Tuesday, saying that city leaders needed to understand the ramifications of the move before passing it, especially in attracting new homeless residents to the city. 

Green’s sentiments reflected the thoughts of most residents who spoke during the public comment period. 

“Everyone 100 percent agrees that Bangor has become the regional center for homelessness and substance abuse,” Green said.