In the Know
News briefs compiled by Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington
BRIGHT IDEA — The South Portland Planning Board solved a problem spotted in the city’s new Solar Energy Systems Ordinance eyed by City Councilor Eben Rose.
At the Feb. 22 council meeting, Rose spotted a discrepancy in the new rules that seemed to indicate solar panels both do or do not count toward overall building height. The council adopted the ordinance anyway and asked the planning board to suggest a fix. At its April 4 meeting, the board voted unanimously that rooftop solar panels should get a blanket exemption when calculating building height in residential neighborhoods. That solution now goes back to the city council for an expected April 17 vote.
POT POSTPONED — People who showed by for an April 11 public hearing before the South Portland Planning Board on proposed zoning regulations for retail marijuana operations were turned away when it was announced the meeting has been canceled at the request of the city council.
At a March 28 workshop, three members of the planning board spent three hours debating proposed rules drafted by city planner Tex Haeuser for where in South Portland marijuana shops should be allowed to be located. The 15-page proposal also covers cultivations and testing facilities related to retail sale of the drug, and how those sites relate to medical marijuana operations already allowed by law, although it made no allowance for so-called social clubs where marijuana products could be consumed in public.
However, Haeuser said the city council wants a crack at the draft language before it goes to the public for comment.
“My understanding is that the city council would like more of an opportunity to help shape this ordinance in its early stages,” he said.
Board Chairman Kevin Carr announced the expected hearing would be held instead on May 9. That presumably means the item will appear on the agenda for the city council’s April 24 workshop session, with a possible first reading as soon as May 1, although Haeuser could not confirm the scheduling.
HELP WANTED — It appears the South Portland Department of Planning and Development is due for an expansion. At the close of the April 11 planning board meeting, board member William Laidley quipped that Community Planner Steve Puleo should have a helper with the volume of work he is responsible for.
“(He) needs an assistant more that the sustainability office, so long as we’re adding positions,” Laidley said, referring to the position created in next year’s city budget that will give Sustainability Coordinator Julie Rosenbach an assistant starting Nov. 1. That person will work three days per week and make $19,288 for the balance of the year.
City Planner Tex Haeuser replied that a new position under Puleo is actually “in the parking lot” for the 2018- 2019 fiscal year. It’s a need that is expected to go before the city council “at a future workshop,” Haeuser said.
SPORTS CLUB — At its April 11 meeting the South Portland Planning Board unanimously approved a special exemption to zoning regulations that will allow the opening of a members-only fitness club locate at 312 Gannett Drive, within the Windward Circle Business Park.
Cape Elizabeth resident Debbie Duryee and a partner, along with 10 staffers, will operate Crisp Classes, offering yoga, cycling and boot-camp exercise classes, along with personal training services, in a new 5,300-square-foot building owned by Windward Development, LLC. Duryee said the facility should be open by mid-August.
POD PROJECT — The South Portland Planning Board has given its blessing to a storage business to be located at 1 Madison Ave. in the 40,000-square-foot warehouse vacated last year by industrial valve maker Allagash International, which decamped to Portland.
The new business, PODS Enterprises, will take up 31,630 square feet of the building, owned by HHHI, LLC, to store “pods” of furniture, household items and other personal or business property. Customers will not be able to access the storage units while housed on the site. The pods are not intended as long-term warehousing, but for temporary safekeeping of sealed containers filled by families and businesses moving into or out of the area, holding them only until final delivery. A representative of the company said the Madison Avenue site will serve an area circling South Portland by about 100 miles. The planning board approval allows for one half-acre outside of the warehouse to be used for storage of empty, unused pods. Although a company representative pledged that truck traffic in and out if the site will be minimal, it will be open for delivery from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. on the weekends.
SCHOOL CHOICE — At the April 10 meeting of the Cape Elizabeth Town Council, Chairman Jamie Garvin acknowledged “inquiries (over) the past couple of days” about the status of the Spurwink School building, located next to the town library.
Originally a one-room schoolhouse located on Bowery Beach Road, the building was given to the town in 1919 by William Widgery Thomas Jr., a lawyer, state legislator, and U.S. Ambassador, who taught there during the winter of 1857, while he was an 18-year-old student at Bowdoin College. It became the town library and was attached for many years to a larger structure until a $4 million library renovation project completed last year. A committee was formed to recommend a future use for the old schoolhouse and “met regularly and extensively,” said Garvin, who admitted, “the work we were doing kind of stagnated and came to a bit of a halt and sort of fell to the back burner a little bit in perspective to other priorities and competing time commitments that both committee members and staff had.”
“That all being said, we will be reconvening that group so that we can complete the work we were charged with,” Garvin said. “Look for that work to get reengaged very soon.”
CABLE COUP — According to Cape Elizabeth Town Councilor Jessica Sullivan, who delivered a financial report at the April 10 council meeting, things are looking rosy. The town is currently trending $48,293 “to the good,” or ahead of projections, for vehicle excise tax collections for the year, she said. Also, while the town’s debt balance is $15.56 million, the town will retire $1.65 million in debt come June. However, there has been a shortfall in the cable franchise fee Cape Elizabeth receives from Charter Communications each year. According to Town Manager Matthew Sturgis, the town is supposed to get 5 percent of the gross annual revenue the company earns off of cable subscribers in town, and that normally comes to about $150,000 per year. However, this year’s payment, received in early March, only came to $140,629.
“That’s a pretty significant change,” he said, reporting on the merger of Spectrum and Time Warner, with Charter handling the billing. The company he said, could not explain the shortfall and was unable to report on actual gross revenue, assuring a return call that has yet to be received.
“Famous for the cable company – you call, you get frustrated. So, I guess no different in my life, as well,” Sturgis said.
Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.