2015-01-30 / Front Page

City rezones for new projects

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Sometimes, the most transformative votes of a city council are the ones that garner the least attention.

That can be especially true when it comes to zoning.

On Jan. 21, the South Portland City Council voted unanimously to approve the first reading of two amendments to the city’s zoning districts, designed to clear the way for significant new developments on the western side of the city in the area of the Maine Mall. Both zoning changes are scheduled for a second reading and final approval at the Feb. 2 council meeting.

The largest of the two requests involves about 9.7 acres on Executive Drive, lots bounded by Running Hill Road and Interstate 95. Cameron General Contractors, a Nebraska-based company, hopes to build a $30 million “congregate care” facility for seniors. In addition to 130 residential units, the complex would have an exercise room, dining hall, on-site bank, pharmacy, hair salon and even a 150-seat movie theater. Cameron, which has similar developments in six other states, describes the complex, whose one-bedroom units rent for up to $3,500 per month, as a “cruise-ship type experience” for residents.

To facilitate the development, Cameron has asked the city to take the lots out of South Portland’s Central and Regional Commercial District and reassign them to the Suburban Commercial District, in which the proposed development would be allowed as a specially permitted use.

“I think this is a fantastic project, and a great location for it,” said City Councilor Brad Fox, in casting his vote for the change.

The South Portland planning board voted 7-0 at its Dec. 9 meeting to recommend the zoning change.

The new building would be three stories tall and encompass 180,000 square feet. According to City Planner Tex Haeuser, while the new zone does allow the senior housing project, it would require certain performance guarantees, such as rules for landscaping and architecture, to be approved by the planning board.

The second zoning change approved by the council Jan. 21 moves a vacant 1.6-acre lot at 55 Maine Mall Road from the light industrial zone into the adjacent central and regional commercial zone. According to City Manager Jim Gailey, the change would allow construction of an office building, or a retail store.

“Given that it’s moving into an adjacent zone, and the use nearby, it doesn’t seem like that big of a change,” said Mayor Linda Cohen.

The property is currently owned by the Estate of Mary Rose-Starr, which is being represented by the Boulos Company. The personal representative for the property, Andrew Ingalls, said the estate would like to sell the lot. The zoning change makes the property more palatable to potential developers. According to Haeuser, the site is located in a designated “growth area, as targeted by the city’s comprehensive plan. This zoning change also is due for a final council vote on Feb. 2.

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