2017-04-14 / Community

Building boom begins in South Portland

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – City council passage in February of new zoning rules for South Portland designed to facilitate so-called “infill development” – the building of homes on lots smaller than the current minimum size allowed – has opened up a floodgate on new projects.

In part, City Planner Tex Haeuser said, that’s because of a year-long moratorium on applications, put in place while the council hammered out the new rules. That, he said, created a “pent up demand” among developers.

Those new rules call on the planning board to review all building applications for undersized lots, and, at its April 11 meeting, the board got the first three projects to come through the pipelines since the spigot was turned back on.

“The board will see a number of these in the future,” Haeuser said, noting the backlog of applications due to come up for review.

The board unanimously approved all three new homes, voting 4-0, with three members absent. Two of the new homes are located on previously vacant lots of record, created before the adoption of zoning in South Portland, on either side of the existing home at 18 Osborne Avenue, now known as 20 and 22 Osborne Ave., respectively. The third home will go up at 2 Loveitt St.

Loring Builders will erect each of the Osborne Avenue homes. Each one-story, single-family home will have three bedrooms, with one building totaling 1,212 square feet and the other 987. The Loveitt Street building, also a three-bedroom, single-family home, will have two stories. It is being built by Mitton Construction.

Some neighbors of the new homes expressed fears that water runoff previously absorbed by lawns and gardens located where buildings and driveways will now sit could impact their properties. However, Haeuser said all of the new homes either do, or as a condition of approval, will meet state and local stormwater runoff plans.

“The amount of water (coming) from a small house on a small lot is really small,” Haueser said.

The two Osborne Avenue lots measure just less than 6,000 square feet, or 0.14 acres. The Loveitt Street lot is 4,082 square feet in size, or 0.09 acres.

Some neighbors of the proposed Loveitt Street home complained that it was out sized compared to surrounding homes and that it would not fit in with the overall design scheme of the neighborhood. However, Shawn Frank, of engineering firm Sebago Technics, said the new building is meant to emulate the home of Captain Willard, for whom the Willard area of South Portland is named. Members of the planning board said they were not concerned by the building’s look.

“None of these houses (in the Willard neighborhood) look alike. All of them are different,” said board member Linda Boudreau.

“This doesn’t stand out as some of them do,” said board member Adrian Dowling. “Some of them (there now), I was like, good grief, what were they thinking. I wouldn’t mind living next to it.”

One member of the planning board, William Laidley, did sound the alarm, however, although it was over the presence of the new buildings at all, rather than their proposed design. Although he ultimately voted to approve the site plan applications, Laidley has been a vocal opponent of South Portland’s new in-fill development standards, which have eliminated most residential density limits.

“This development will change the neighborhood,” he said. “This project is consistent with the city’s goal to increase the density and the tax base, but as much as the city wants to do that, everything has a cost. If I had a pulpit I’d stand up and say that repeatedly. It’s whatever the costs are of packing more people into smaller spaces. The cost is that the neighborhood green spaces you’ve been used to are going to be disappearing.”

The new zoning amendments make explicit that maximum net residential density and minimum area per family are not applicable to meeting the required space and bulk standards elsewhere in the ordinance. Other standards, such as how much of a lot can be occupied by a building, and setbacks from lots lines, still apply. Net residential density in the city’s Residential A and AA zones now only applies to new cluster developments and subdivisions – the latter defined by the state as the splitting of a single lot more than once within a fiveyear period.

It also requires all nonconforming lot applications obtain planning board approval, and prohibits basements for nonconforming lots in certain sewer district areas. However, a mechanism does exist for applicants to be allowed to have basements in combined sewer areas if soils analysis determines a basement slab would be a foot above seasonal high groundwater – or if the applicant has rights to send groundwater onto downhill properties. The two Osborne Avenue homes will be built on concrete slabs.

The new rules also require a 12- foot separation of new buildings on nonconforming lots from existing buildings, removing the ability of landowners to adjust lot lines in developing nonconforming lots, “even if doing so results in less nonconformity.”

It also reduces the minimum street frontage requirement in the A zone to 50 feet, and to 75 feet in the AA zone, with a provision that these distances revert to the current 75 feet and 100 feet frontage requirements, respectively, unless the council acts by March 1, 2020 to maintain the shorter distances.

In addition, the new rules would mean all proposals to build homes on nonconforming lots would require a public hearing and review by the Planning Board, regardless of total lot size. Allowable lot sizes were adjusted citywide by the new ordinance. The new minimums per neighborhood are: for Willard, Pleasantdale and Meetinghouse Hill, 6,000 square feet; Ligonia, 6,500; Stanwood Park, Sunset Park and Thornton Heights, 7,000; Knightville, 7,500; Cash Corner and part of Ocean Street, 8,000; Loveitt’s Field and Meadowbrook, 8,500; Country Gardens and part of Highland Avenue, 12,500; part of Ocean Street, 13,500; part of Highland Avenue and Stanwood Park, 20,000.

Although the in-fill development rules were largely created with grandfathered lots in mind – lots that in many cases appear to the casual viewer to be side lawns of existing homes, and in most cases belong to the owner of the adjoining home, but are actually separate lots laid out in the early 20th century – Haeuser has said the smaller lot size limits now contained in city code would allow about 500 properties to be divided to create an additional house lot, where that had not been an option before.

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