Caribou revisiting zoning rules in hopes of spurring more economic development

When Caribou officials know which businesses need more or less regulation, they can guide aspiring entrepreneurs to their goals faster.

CARIBOU, Maine — After nearly two decades, the City of Caribou is taking a comprehensive look at its current land use regulations to encourage entrepreneurship among residents and foster broader economic development.

Caribou has not fully reviewed and updated its land use tables since 2006, according to Code Enforcement Officer Ken Murchison.

Though the city has added new business zones due to economic needs, more extensive updates are needed, he said. When city officials know which businesses need more or less regulation, they can guide aspiring entrepreneurs to their goals faster.

“The idea is to make our land use codes more easily navigable for people who want to start businesses in the city,” Murchison said.

Recently, the Caribou Planning Board has begun reviewing all currently designated land uses and discussing which may still be relevant from an economic development perspective.

They also discuss which uses should remain “permitted,” meaning they should not require CEO or Planning Committee approval, or be changed to “conditional” or not allowed at all based on a Planning Committee review.

If the planning board “allows” certain low-impact businesses without requiring a public hearing, it could encourage more people to start businesses, Murchison said. The board is willing to test this idea with a Revised Home Business Ordinance this will soon be submitted to City Council for final approval.

Under this regulation, home trades that do not require additional state licenses, such as accounting services or bakeries, would require only CEO approval and no public hearing. With updated land use tables, business owners dealing with more demands will know exactly what rules apply to their unique businesses.

“At the day care center, for example [the current table] has child care centers, larger family day care centers, group day care centers, and adult day care centers,” Murchison said. “We need to look at the real uses of caribou and see if we can combine or streamline some of them [categories].”

Murchison expects the most notable additions to the land-use tables will include regulations for relatively new types of businesses, such as AirB&Bs, short-term rentals, tiny homes and solar panels.

“We have to ask ourselves whether we want to regulate them [businesses]. We don’t have any ordinances for her right now,” Murchison said. “With solar, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Is it for industrial or residential use?’ These are things that other city and state governments are dealing with that we need to think about.”

Caribou’s new Riverfront Renaissance Committee is also a significant force behind proposed changes in areas along the Aroostook River, a main waterway which runs through parts of Caribou and surrounding communities.

The Riverfront Renaissance Committee, formed in September 2021, has helped provide leadership Changes in the city order to allow campsites in traditional residential areas or rural residential areas on certain plots. These changes came after city councils approved initial changes to Caribou’s campground rules that allowed a local contractor to do so develop a new campsite near the Aroostook River.

The committee has numerous long-term goals for the river basin. These goals include working with the Planning Committee to develop a Riverfront Development Overlay District that overlaps with existing zones but encourages certain companies to operate in certain sections of the overlay.

For example, a craft brewery or small restaurant could exist closer to the river, while more industrial companies such as fertilizer or food processing plants would be encouraged to move production further afield to avoid impacting the environment.

“In a survey [conducted last year] People said they’d like to see specialty stores or a microbrewery,” Murchison said. “Discussions about this are just beginning, but we have to look at what kind of development we want to promote.”

These discussions will continue for many months as Murchison and the Planning Board reach out to existing industrial companies near the riverbank and discuss how to align the company’s needs with future land use goals.

In the meantime, the board will continue to address citywide land use and invite the public to participate in their workshops and public hearings.

“Land use affects everyone,” Murchison said. “If you live in a residential area where someone can run a bakery from their home, that poses problems with traffic and off-street parking.”

Leave a Comment