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YARMOUTH — The Planning Board on Sept. 26 heard an update of plans to restore and repurpose the historic Grand Trunk Railroad Depot on Main Street.
The prospective buyer, Ford Reiche of Freeport, has an agreement with the Village Improvement Society to purchase the 1906 station and lease the space to Gorham Savings Bank.
The bank will use the space “to conduct a personal or concierge format of banking,” according to a memo from landscape architect Sarah Witte.
“GSB plans to have two or three employees at the restored building,” Witte said. “… This is a somewhat quieter version of the usually busy branch office.”
The plan includes 12 parking spaces – some open to the public and others exclusively for bank employees – with a one-way loop, improvements to Village Green Park, new brick pathways and lighting, and potentially restoring the historic fountain in a central plaza space.
There will also be a drive-up interactive teller machine where customers can speak with bank employees and conduct automatic transactions.
Reiche said he had planned to do a “first-rate restoration” of the building. “Gorham Savings Bank spread that view out to the park (on the property),” he said. “In my respect, it is a very good outcome for the building.”
Gorham Savings has worked with Reiche before; the bank purchased and restored the Grand Trunk Railway Co. building at the corner of India and Commercial streets in Portland in 2016.
Bank President Stephen deCastro said the intent is to make sure the business fits the building, saying it won’t be a “traditional high-wall teller line that has a fairly intimidating feel,” but rather “low-walled work stations.”
In response to resident concerns that the station’s historic integrity would be compromised and the project may have a negative impact on the town’s village character, Village Improvement Society President Linda Grant said the nonprofit’s mission remains the same as it was when it formed in 1911 and aims to “protect and improve the natural advantages and pleasing appearance of Yarmouth.”
Rebecca Rundquist, of West Elm Street, said the proposal was “lovely,” but does not support it. She said she does not think another bank is the best use for the space.
“This is not the only project that could improve our park,” she said. “There’s a lot of pressure being put on Main Street in a small window of time.”
The depot is part of the Protect and Sell Program at Maine Preservation, which connects sellers with buyers who want to rehabilitate historic properties.
Greg Paxton, executive director of Maine Preservation, said the organization feels this plan represents the “best opportunity for long-term preservation” and feels it will “help further stabilize Main Street.”
The Canadian National Railway owned the station for more than 60 years until the railroad stopped running trains to Yarmouth and proposed tearing it down. To save the building from being demolished, VIS bought the building for $500 in 1968.
In 1979, the train depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
For more than 40 years, the society leased the space to Village Florist & Co., which did not renew its lease last year.
This will be the fifth property listed on the National Register of Historic Places that Reiche has worked to rehabilitate. In 2015, he paid $238,000 to purchase and restore Halfway Rock Light Station off Harpswell, which was abandoned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1975.
“We would like this building to remain in its historic and architectural integrity because it is a focal point of Main Street,” Grant said. “We don’t want to see it changed.”
Sarah Hanson, a real estate manager for Maine Preservation, said the proposal includes interior and exterior preservation easements on the property to require review of any proposed changes on the property and protect the building from demolition.
“The historic architectural properties of (both the interior and exterior of) the building are going to be preserved,” Hanson said.
Before Reiche can come before the board for official site plan review, he must work out what he’s called a “complicated land problem”: much of the land under and surrounding the station is owned by the town or the state.
“There’s also going to be a process with the council (for) all issues regarding disposition of the town’s rights to the property,” Board Chairman Tom Federle said. “These are not decisions the Planning Board makes.”
Federle added the board needs some sort of indication from the town that they’ll be willing to partner with Reiche before the project can move forward.
The Yarmouth Planning Board last week considered potential buyer Ford Reiche’s conceptual plans for the restoration of the Grand Trunk Railroad depot, to be occupied by Gorham Savings Bank.