2015-09-11 / Front Page

Cape sets hearing on Village Green

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Two proposals presented to the Cape Elizabeth Planning Board by Harry Angevine of Marathon Construction for a lot at 326 Ocean House Road show how a mixed use development might look when incorporating zoning rules for a town square, left, and another image reflecting how the same property might look without the necessary amendment needed to increase the maximum front setback for buildings in the town center zoning district. (Courtesy image) Two proposals presented to the Cape Elizabeth Planning Board by Harry Angevine of Marathon Construction for a lot at 326 Ocean House Road show how a mixed use development might look when incorporating zoning rules for a town square, left, and another image reflecting how the same property might look without the necessary amendment needed to increase the maximum front setback for buildings in the town center zoning district. (Courtesy image) CAPE ELIZABETH — Cape Elizabeth may finally get its picturesque village green.

Or, it may not.

Everything hinges on a zoning amendment that will increase the maximum allowed setback for buildings in the town center district.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept 15, before the planning board at town hall.

Currently, the allowed setback from Ocean House Road for development in the town center is between 25 and 35 feet. In order to facilitate a village green, the new setback for plans given conditional approval by the town council would be at least 35 feet for parking, with no maximum setback for buildings.

The planning board has a proposal on the table for a 4-acre lot at 326 Ocean House Road, located between town hall and the offices of the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust. The concept was presented to the planning board at an Aug. 4 workshop by Harry Angevine of Marathon Construction. It calls for four mixed-use buildings, with retail on the ground floor and residential units above, ringing the property along a new road that would wind from Ocean House Road to the rear of the town hall parking lot. A park designed for use as a public meeting space, with an area reserved to protect a wetland, would front the development at the corner of Ocean House Road and the Town Hall property.

Asked by the planning board to present an alternative design, should the proposed zoning amendment not win approval, Angevine brought a new drawing to a Sept. 1 workshop. That plan eliminated the village green and instead pulls three of the four buildings up to the road, as required in the town center district. That zone includes illustrated design standards meant to promote a pedestrian-friendly, village-style development that, above all else, eschews what town officials refer to as a “Route 1” look. However, the zoning regulations for the district, created in 1995, do not allow for a green space in front of any building development. In keeping with the rules as written, Angevine said his four buildings could include one 40-seat café, but would otherwise be dedicated to residential use, with 17 two-bedroom units in three, twostory townhouses, sold at market rates.

“This plan complies with existing zoning,” Angevine said, adding that his “more recent market research” has led him away from mixed-use development with retail shops, apart from the possible café.

Most planning board members seemed unimpressed with the second concept.

“I’m seeing a lot of parking,” said Victoria Volent, pointing to a vast expanse of pavement drawn in where the park had been in the village green proposal. “Why would anyone want to live there? There’s nothing aesthetically pleasing about this concept.”

“Let me ask a question about the elephant in the room,” said planning board Chairman Peter Curry. “Which (plan) do you as the about-to-be owner of the property prefer?”

“That’s a good question,” Angevine said. “There’s a lot of mixed reviews out there as to whether the town center plan or something such as this is more appropriate. Frankly, the jury is still out for me.”

If a village green is incorporated into the plan, the new village green standard proposed for the town center zoning district would require 100 feet of frontage on Ocean House Road and go back from the road at least 100 feet, with a total area of not less than 20,000 square feet.

Debate about the need for a village green in Cape Elizabeth began almost a quarter century ago, as part of the 1993 Town Center Plan, adopted by the town after two years of work by a special committee. That plan laid out a vision for Cape Elizabeth that included a town center with “a village feeling, mixed retail uses targeted to residents, a pedestrian-inviting environment, a common meeting place, visual vitality and linkages to the town’s open space and school assets.” It led to the downtown zoning rules adopted in 1995.

In 2013, the town council decided it was time to update the 1993 plan and its list of 37 recommendations, some of which, like the village green concept, had never come to fruition. A new committee met 17 times, agreeing on a shorter list of recommendations, the chief of which renewed interest in the village green concept. The town council adopted the updated town center plan in October 2015 and, in May, asked the planning board to review ways of incorporating potential for a village green into the downtown zoning regulations.

While the green could be built on town-owned land, the potential does exist for it to be built on private property. It was during a committee workshop last fall when the owner of the lot at 326 Ocean House Road asked the town to consider a mixed-use development there that would include an outdoor public space.

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