For as long as I’ve lived in Yarmouth, Maine, (34 years) the townspeople have recognized and appreciated what a treasure we have in the Village section of our Town. Main Street in Yarmouth is a genuine, authentic New England town center, with a village green, walkable sidewalks, churches, a library, cafes, barber shops and hair salons, town hall, majestic old houses, a private school campus, and other retail shops or offices.
It’s distinct from the hustle-bustle of Route One, which conveniently connects us to our neighbors to the north and south.
Real estate in the Village is wicked expensive; an old house within a block or two from Main Street will cost you more than many waterfront properties elsewhere in Maine. Some really great people live in those homes, and the rest of us really appreciate how much they really appreciate what they’ve got. It’s as if they’re stewards of those properties, and stewards of the Village.
A fair number of the rest of us live a mile or so from Main Street, in neighborhoods and small subdivisions that sprang up in fits and starts, beginning in the late 60s, filling in around old farmhouses. We cherish the Village, but we don’t live in the Village. Our part of Town has its own character:
We have a mix of single-family houses from very old farmhouses to 1960s Farmer’s Home subdivisions to 1980s colonials on wooded lots to small ranches and splits to a very few new homes. Our homes were chosen according to the size and style we could afford; we have yards for the kids, trees for the birds, wet areas for the frogs, and habitat for the deer; we’re close enough to know our neighbors, without being on top of each other; and we coexist in peace, without conflict. We love our Town and our schools.
We can walk to Main Street but it takes us at least 20 minutes; we’re a five minute drive from the supermarket on Route One.
Life is pretty darned good.
People “discovered” Yarmouth in the last couple of decades, a good thing for all of us, I think. High achievers want their kids to be educated in our high performing school district. Grandparents are relocating to be near their grandkids. All good.
The smart people tell us this change has to be managed, lest it detract from the New England village we cherish. I get that, believe me. What’s coming our way, courtesy of central planning, is New Urbanism – Character Based Codes – to replace our obsolete zoning.
Zoning, it seems, was implemented to force people into their cars.
The Character Based Code is supposed to liberate us from our cars.
Which when you think about it is kind of silly; witness the lines of Audis, Volvos, and Priuses dropping kids off at school every morning. It seems to me New Urbanism ought to apply in, you know, urban areas; not in the exurbs of a New England village. But what do I know?
Anyway, I’m all for preserving the character of the Village. What I didn’t expect was that the smart people want to apply most of the same standards they intend for the Village to the rest of us out here in non-village-land as well.
They want to replace trees and frog habitat with houses on micro “infill” lots, accessed via fake roads; see here:
The imagined micro lots of about 7,000 square feet at the top of the photo are located in back yards, sandwiched between houses back to back on two side streets. The trees you see are habitat to a variety of birds and there are wet spots where wood frogs and peepers breed. Nearly all would be sacrificed to New Urbanist “infill.”
This could be repeated all over what is now the Medium Density Residential zone if the New Urbanists carry out their plan for Yarmouth.
The smart people want to implement building placement and architectural standards, too; almost every home in the area northeast of the Village would fall short on one or more of them, leading me to wonder, why these standards? Why here? It seems quite contrived. Here are some examples of great homes with designs and placements that couldn’t be built under the Code that’s now under consideration.
Sins: No door on front facade; deck that’s visible from the road.
Classic farmhouse, but no door on the front facade. For shame!
Well kept, lovely ranch, but again, no door on the front facade.
Very attractive home, but the garage can’t be in front of the main facade.
Great use of the lot, but another deck visible from the road.
Multiple offenses: side deck; front door faces the driveway; garage is more than 40% of the facade; garage doors don’t have windows.
This last photo is my own house, pictured from the street. You can’t really see our front door from this angle. When we built the house in 1988, we deliberately oriented it on the lot to take full advantage of the sun. We get light in every room because the garage is on the north corner. Plus, we wanted people to actually use our front door, unlike most houses in our area, where people enter through the garage or the mudroom/breezeway door.
The new Code has no use for such good ole Yankee practicality. Make that front door a phony show piece on the street-facing facade! So what if it will never be used? Character counts, you know!
Apparently the character that exists here right now isn’t good enough, our peaceful contentment notwithstanding. I guess if folks love Yarmouth now, we’ll love it even more after we change it. Sigh.