2015-10-02 / Front Page

Cape Village Green proposal gets its day

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — A zoning change that would enable construction of a village green has won the unanimous endorsement of the planning board, although the planners were careful to edit the example drawing attached to ordinance to deflect concern they are pushing a specific proposal now under review.

Cape Elizabeth has longed for a picturesque village green since at least 1993, when a recommendation to pursue such a feature was added into a town center plan. That goal was retained when the plan was redrafted last year.

During the public hearing process prior to adoption of that plan, the owner of a 4.1-acre lot at 326 Ocean House Road, located between town hall and Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, came forward and asked if the town would be interested in getting its green as part of a mixed-used development of that property.

Since then, the planning board has added village green development criteria to the town center zoning district. That change, unanimously adopted at the most recent board meeting, now heads to the town council, which is likely to refer to its ordinance subcommittee at its Oct. 14 meeting.

Currently, the allowed setback from Ocean House Road for new buildings in the town center district, which runs along Route 77 from Hill Way to Fowler Road, is between 25 and 35 feet. To facilitate a village green, the new setback would be at least 35 feet for parking, with no maximum setback for buildings.

Meanwhile, Harry Angevine of Marathon Construction has acquired an interest in the 4.1-acre lot, currently owned by Rudolph F. Haffenreffer IV, of Sanibel, Florida. On Aug. 4 and again on Sept. 1, Angevine presented concept drawings for the site before the planning board.

One drawing, which incorporates the new village green standard, would include 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.

The second drawing, made to fit current setback rules in the town center district, eliminates the village green and instead pulls three of the four buildings up to the road. Angevine said his four buildings in this case 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.

“Let me ask a question about the elephant in the room,” said planning board chairman Peter Curry, at the Sept. 1 meeting. “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 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 addition to the town center zoning district would require that it have 100 feet of continuous frontage on Ocean House Road and that the green go back from the road at least 100 feet, with a total area of not less than 20,000 square feet.

Just three people attended a Sept. 15 public hearing on the new village green standard. When the first of those residents, Paul Seidman of Oakview Drive, rose to object to the zoning change that would allow a village green, based on Angevine’s plans for the 326 Ocean House Road lot, planning board vice chairman Carol Ann Jordan quickly shut him down.

Acting as chairman in Curry’s absence, Jordan made clear that the new village green standard could apply to any property along Ocean House Road through the town center zoning district.

“This is not part of any project,” she said. “This is a village green ordinance that would allow development of property with a village green. It doesn’t necessarily involve a multiplex. Our desire is to create an ordinance that is not written specifically to support this particular development. I won’t say what is going to happen, but that is not our intent.”

Meanwhile, Stonybrook Road resident Stephanie Caver, who was chairman of the ad hoc town center committee that last year updated Cape’s town center plan, rose to support the change.

“I feel like we are now confronted with a very unique opportunity,” she said. “The town center has several parcels that are privately owned. They are at the cusp of redevelopment. We all know that. And at this moment we have an opportunity with any of those parcels that we might be able to create a village green and protect our small-town way of life, promote the town center as a place where residents can walk and recreate, create a place where we can gather, post announcements, or place a Christmas tree or light a menorah, and do the types of things that make a community a home.

“We can use this to prevent the town center from becoming just another place to stop for gas on the way to the beach,” she said.

The other speaker trod a path between Seidman and Carver, supporting the concept of a green, but questioning the wisdom of setting up an ordinance standard for its development.

“My concern about this ordinance amendment is that it would surrender control over a village green to private businesses and private landowners,” said Anne Carney of Angell Point Road.

The way the ordinance update is structured, Carney said, she could envision every developable lot along Route 77 incorporating a village green.

“We’re kind of surrendering control to the whims of private landowners,” Carney said.

Along those lines, Town Planner Maureen O’Meara noted that Town Attorney John Wall had voiced an opposing concern. In a Sept. 9 email to O’Meara, Wall said a provision in the ordinance requiring conditional approval of any village green proposal by the town council “would effectively amount to contract zoning.”

Because Cape Elizabeth zoning rules do not allow for contract zoning, Wall said, “applicants should be able to to look at the ordinance and discern whether they can meet the criteria for their proposed use of their property.”

The judgment on compliance should not be left to the “absolute discretion” of the town council, he said.

With that in mind, the final draft of the standard approved by the planning board now states that any village green must be offered to the town, but no longer says the town council must indicate a willingness to accept the property as public land. For that reason, the update now states that any village green that is built allow public access to the property regardless of who actually owns the land.

“I think the key piece is it says legal public access and that’s not an option,” O’Meara said. “It’s not the ownership, it’s the right of the public to use the land without restriction that is the important thing.”

While the planning board endorsed that view, one member took heed of the concern expressed by Seikman, that the ordinance update could be seen as an attempt by the town to make legal one particular development proposal that would not pass muster otherwise.

While Jordan said the update was crafted with no particular development in mind, planning board member Elaine Falender pointed out that a drawing contained in the ordinance, illustrating the design standards from a village green, “came from a particular development.”

As proof of her point, Falender noted that the drawing showed an access road, which, as depicted, could only connect to the town hall parking. That, she said, was clearly not an option to any potential site for a village green.

“I think this drawing needs to be cleaned up and made a little more generic because, in theory, this could be built on any property that abuts Ocean House Road in the town center district,” she said.

“It’s a very generic drawing,” said planning board member Henry Steinberg.

“No, it’s not. It’s a drawing that mimics a very specific proposal,” Falender said. “But I also don’t see any purpose in forwarding to town council something which our town attorney says is basically an end run around contract zoning.”

The board did not agree with that comment — and, indeed, Falender herself voted in favor of sending the village green ordinance to town council — but did agree to attach a new illustration.

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