Proposed zoning changes in Knightville could change density

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Proposed zoning changes in the Knightville neighborhood could eliminate density requirements. 

The Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee has been reviewing each neighborhood in the city and has created the Knightville Fore and Aft Committee to solicit input on what residents, visitors and investors see as the vision for the area.

Among the members of a zoning subcommittee formed to explore changes are Paul Trusiani and Phil Notis, who both own property in Knightville. Two of nine people that volunteered to draft zoning language for Ocean Street, Trusiani and Notis recently emailed proposed changes to Planning Director Tex Haeuser.

Haeuser cautioned that the subcommittee’s work is in the beginning stages and members’ ideas are just that — ideas.

“They are just ideas, and we welcome ideas. Who better to understand the situation than property owners?” Haeuser said, adding, “on the other hand, it takes collaborative discussion.”

In an Aug. 14 email to Haeuser, Trusiani wrote that he and Notis propose extending the Village Extension district in Mill Creek to overlay the Village Commercial zone on Ocean Street in Knightville with modifications that could include nixing the 24 units per acre residential limit, eliminating a density limit.

A 50-foot height limit on buildings would remain in the Village Commerical zone if the idea is adopted. 

Trusinani said the VE zone also allows residential units on the first floor behind a retail unit. Under current zoning, a residential unit cannot be on the first floor on Ocean Street. 

Trusiani is proposing that in bisected lots, which are those located both in the village residential and village commercial districts, a building containing up to four residential units may be built on a lot that meets the 2,500 square-foot lot size, and units may be detached or attached. For dual letter streets, Trusiani wrote that any lot bordering two letter streets may be subdivided into two lots as long as each subdivided lot meets the minimum 2,500-square-foot requirement. 

At a discussion about the proposed lot size change in July, members of the Knightville Fore and Aft Committee said they would like to change single lot sizes to 2,500 from 7,500 square feet in Village Residential as well. 

Councilor Susan Henderson, who lives on B Street, said at the July meeting that she was concerned a lot size change may result in older homes being torn down and the subsequent construction of two structures on one lot.

However, planners said it will not be possible to build two separate units on one lot with the change. 

The objective of the group is to allow for development and also to protect the neighboring residential areas, said Committee Chairman Peter Stanton. “We are advisers, and we want to advise in a way that accomplishes what people in the neighborhood want,” he said of any changes that are brought to the city for consideration.

The amendments, if agreed upon by the committee, would go before the City Council and the city’s Planning Board. “There are many steps,” Stanton said. 

Stanton said the committee will dig into the proposal drafted by Trusiani and Notis — how it fits into current zoning, how it addresses development needs, and its impact on adjacent proprieties. “That’s a process,” he said, adding it may span two meetings.

Trusiani said the goal is to create incentives for underutilized properties to be developed in a “thoughtful, human-scale” way, without creating enough incentive for buildings to be torn down and a large building be erected in their place that would “change the character of the neighborhood everybody loves.”

Trusiani owns property at 79 and 81 Ocean St., and said he has no plans to add to his property, but remarked one of his buildings, with retail and residential units, is grandfathered, as it is a six-unit structure.

He said zoning does not allow functional building in the neighborhood, remarking that some houses are situated only 2 feet apart. 

Under current zoning, Trusiani said if a building was destroyed, the owner could rebuild on the same footprint, but he said zoning is now restrictive and doesn’t allow for more modern development. Allowing upgrades could help with two issues the city often discusses — affordable housing and energy efficiency. 

The changes, including making lot sizes smaller, allows for people to have more flexibility and remain in the neighborhood, Trusiani said.

Notis, whose family emigrated to South Portland in the 1930s from Greece, established what was called Phil’s Market, now the Bridgeway Restaurant, which remains a family business.

He said most of the lots in the neighborhood are nonconforming with current zoning, and the regulations are “antiquated.” 

The Notis Family trust owns a lot at 43 D St. that has remained vacant for 11 years, since the non-occupied house was razed in a gas leak explosion. 

Notis said he would ideally like to build a four-unit apartment building on the site, but current density zoning prohibits the project.

Notis said he, his mother and his brother individually and collectively own property on D Street, Ocean Street and C Street. 

According to the committee, the overarching project is intended to update the neighborhood’s land-use policies and recommendations for growth. It will also examine current challenges, such as parking, and coming challenges, specifically sea level rise. 

Haeuser said at a July 26 public forum that the purpose of committee meetings and future recommendations is to make growth in the neighborhood consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. 

“The committee is comprised of people doing a good job developing consensus, and doing what’s needed to improve the district,” Notis said. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka. 

Work continues on how to best develop the Knightville neighborhood in South Portland.