2018-02-16 / Front Page

Change paves way for senior housing

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

This map, provided by South Portland office of planning and development, shows the location of three lots the city council voted to move from the Professional Office District to the Commercial Suburban Zone to enable, for at least two of the properties, senior housing complexes. (Courtesy image) This map, provided by South Portland office of planning and development, shows the location of three lots the city council voted to move from the Professional Office District to the Commercial Suburban Zone to enable, for at least two of the properties, senior housing complexes. (Courtesy image) SOUTH PORTLAND — As part of South Portland’s continuing effort to encourage more residential development in the area around the Maine Mall, the city council on Feb. 6 unanimously approved zoning map changes for three lots, at 505 and 707 Sable Oaks Drive, and at 165 Running Hill Road.

In order to enable construction of senior housing, all three lots were moved from the Professional Office District to the Commercial Suburban Zone. Although both districts share much in common, in terms of allowed construction, the Professional Office District was created with large-scale office parks in mind, while the Commercial Suburban Zone was amended in May 2017 to aid residential development by eliminating population density limits.

According to Kevin Bunker of Portlandbased Developers Collaborative, and Tim Soley, owner of the 5-acre lot at 505 Sable Oaks Drive, they have been unable to attract any business to the site, before, during, or after the recent recession. A suburban corporate campus “isn’t what people want anymore,” according to meeting minutes. Instead, the pair is leaning towards senior housing as the “highest and best use” of the property.

According to City Planner Tex Haeuser, Charles Bayer, owner of 707 Sable Oaks Drive, does not have any imminent development plans for his 4.9-acre lot, but asked to go along with the change in order to keep his property from become an “island” of Professional Office District zoning within the larger Commercial Suburban Zone districts.

Haueser said the 5.6-acre Running Hill Road lot was inadvertently split between the two zones when new maps were created last spring.

“It was never the intent to split any parcel between two zones,” Haeuser wrote in a memo to the council.

According to Pete Connell of Oceanside Properties, the Sable Oaks Golf Course at Country Club Drive is being phased out in favor of a senior living complex similar to the one recently built across the street, at 74 Running Hill Road.

The planning board held a public hearing on the prospective zoning map changes on Jan. 9, voting 5-2 to recommend the edits to the city council. Planning board members Linda Boudreau and May DeRose voted against the idea, with Boudreau voicing concern that the city is “eating away” at the Professional Office District zone, for which it once had “high hopes,” given proximity to Interstate 95 and the Portland International Jetport. As the Professional Office District zone shrinks, the city does not have a lot of space left that is appropriate for the campus of a large, corporate headquarters facility, and what sites do remain, she said, “will end up scattered throughout” the city.

DeRose, meanwhile, said South Portland’s comprehensive plan seems to suggest there is sufficient senior housing already. Substituting that from the kind of space that could potentially bring high-paying jobs to the city “may not be a good tradeoff,” she said.

The city council, which held a workshop on the proposal Nov. 13, and held a first reading on Dec. 6, voted in the change without comment.

The amendment took some time to work through to a final vote in part because it had been lumped in with a text change requested by V & C Enterprises owner Vincent Maietta, designed to enable better aesthetics for 256 apartment units on Clarks Pond Parkway, next to Home Depot. With four towers in that project planned at 65 feet tall, Maietta is unable under Commercial Suburban District rules in place since the 1980s to create parking, or otherwise lay pavement in the area beside or behind each individual structure.

On behalf of Maietta, Will Conway of South Portland engineering firm Sebago Technics, said Jan. 9 that Maietta could still create the project with the existing green space requirement, which is triggered when buildings hit 60 feet in height, but it would mean reducing ceiling height within the individual housing units. That “is not desirable,” Conway said, because “it will impact the quality of life of the residents.” Not being able to put some parking beside the buildings also will mean eliminating planned islands within the main, front parking lot, giving it a “K-Mart effect,” Conway said.

Conway asked that the paving provision be removed, and that required landscaping be limited to the 20 feet closest to a side or rear lot line.

The city council voted Dec. 8 to split the Maietta text amendment from the map change requests for Running Hill Road and Sable Oaks Drive, taking his request up first, on Jan. 3.

“This will be a great project. Vinnie’s a great guy. He’ll be top-notch. Vinnie knows what he’s doing. Let him come,” said Brigham Street resident Russ Lunt, the lone audience member to speak to the proposal at that meeting.

The council felt differently, however, and voted unanimously to reject the proposal.

“I get why it benefits this project, but I’m not sure I understand how this change benefits the public,” said Councilor Claude Morgan. “You’re asking us to make a very large decision that could affect lots of properties, but without any good reason except that one person wants to do something.”

“It seems to be a pattern in this city that people buy buildings and then say, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize it wasn’t allowed to be used that way. And I’m getting tired of that,” said Councilor Susan Henderson.

The Maietta proposal is for land currently vacant, but Councilor Eben Rose said it could be put to better use, in a way that would create a more village-like setting. The decision did not need to come down to an either/or for the council of zoning change or big, ugly parking lot, he said.

“You’re the (landscape) architects, right? Why don’t you build something nice within the zoning that you have,” he told Conway. “It doesn’t have to be six story buildings. It could be one-story buildings, or a series of tiny homes. There’s a vast multitude of residences that could be built to fulfill the goals of our comprehensive plan in this zone, and its hopeful transition to becoming more of a neighborhood, more of a walkable thing.”

Staff writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@inthesentry.com.

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