BATH — Bath’s Planning Board will meet yet again on a proposed expansion to Bath RiverWalk condominiums that would increase the number of floors on the fourth and fifth buildings.

The proposal would increase the number of units by adding another story to each building, without changing its height. Front Street neighbors have come out in opposition to the project, citing the building’s already large size compared to houses in the area.

At the board’s Nov. 7 meeting, tempers flared as residents were baffled that a building the size of Bath RiverWalk was allowed in the first place, let alone potentially expanded.

“We keep coming back,” said Anthony Graham, who lives on nearby North Street. “Putting these third floor dormers out, you’re ruining a view from the upper levels of many people’s houses. It’s a minor point, I think, because the big game has been given up already.”

Resident Ken Strainic echoed Graham’s concerns, and said that the planning board only needed to use “common sense” to see that the buildings didn’t fit the neighborhood.

Board Member John Sunderland repeatedly asked both the residents in opposition and fellow board members what standards the planning board could cite and apply to the structures based on the city’s historic overlay ordinance.

As it stands, Bath’s ordinance does not have specific quantifiable standards in its historic overlay; it uses terms of comparability of design, width, and height.
“We’re applying a historic overlay ordinance which does not contain any standards, and which we know a virtually identical ordinance has been declared unconstitutionally vague in another setting,” said Sunderland. “I’m troubled by the fact that we are faced with applications and asked to decide under an ordinance that doesn’t give us any guidance.”

Bath’s ordinance references being “compatible with other buildings in the Historic Overlay District” and that the buildings have to be “visually related to the surrounding area,” things that aren’t defined by any quantifiable standards.

Sunderland went on to point out that the Hampton Inn, a much larger building that obstructs views far more, is in the same historic overlay and was approved.
“What is it that makes the Hampton Inn meet the standards of this ordinance, and the proposed changes here not meet the standards of the ordinance,” said Sunderland. “I asked about standards because I am serious, we are supposed to be employing standards in order to make a decision.”

He added he has been through both the decisions on the inn and the Bath RiverWalk buildings multiple times but can’t see anything specific that makes one proposal different from the other in terms of the ordinance’s standards.

“If we continue to make decisions based on subjective personal preference, as one member of the board has identified his opinion here tonight, then I can tell you, as a lawyer, that subjective personal preference is not going to stand up in court,” said Sunderland.

Curtis Neufeld of Sitelines, representing the developer, expressed similar sentiments.

“I did not know, we did not know, really, the basis of the denial from the last meeting,” said Neufeld. “There was not a written statement of how we did not meet the standards.”

Despite the objection of Sunderland, the board ultimately voted 3 – 3 on approval, which is a equivalent to a no vote. After the vote, Sunderland requested the city put together a written findings of fact to offer the developer some guidance, even as audience members objected to not being allowed to speak further on the issue.

The next meeting on the issue will be at 5 p.m. Dec. 5.