Brunswick council questions spot zoning request

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BRUNSWICK — Plans to build a “high-end” self-storage facility on Old Bath Road may be in jeopardy after town councilors Monday tabled a decision on rezoning the property. 

Councilors intend to see how the site will be affected by changes proposed to the town’s zoning boundaries before making a decision on the request. 

The Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee is expected to release its draft recommendations next week.

At issue for property owner Ted Crooker is the amount of impervious surface that can be placed on the lot, north of U.S. Route 1.

In June, the Planning Board approved a proposal by Crooker to divide a small mixed-use district and add the larger portion to the neighboring Cook’s Corner Center District.

Cook’s Corner has more lenient standards for development, and permits 80 percent impervious surface.

In his letter to the town, Crooker said the larger paved surface is required for the planned storage facility. 

On Monday, however, councilors balked at the prospect of increasing impervious surface to four times the current 20 percent limit. 

Additionally, councilors questioned why the zoning amendment was coming so close to the release of the draft zoning ordinance rewrite, which will change the designation of the district in question.

“I think the whole process loses credibility if we preempt it at this point,” said Councilor Jane Millett, echoing statements made by Councilor Sarah Brayman.

Speaking in favor of the project, Planning Board Chairman Charles Frizzle said rezoning the area would be a “win-win,” allowing development of a parcel that has been on the market for years, and generating added tax revenue for the town. 

“Nothing is gained on waiting on this process,” Frizzle said.

The Town Council has approved other zoning amendments in the recent past, such as for a Bowdoin College building on Harpswell Road and for two former municipal buildings on Federal Street, Frizzle noted.

Anna Breinich, Brunswick’s director of planning, said the requested zoning amendment is in line with changes in the draft zoning ordinance, which includes merging small mixed-use districts with larger surrounding growth areas. 

Despite the Planning Board’s endorsement, councilors expressed misgivings about the proposal. 

Aside from concern about conflict with new zoning rules, councilors also said the project was not a good fit for the area and could have the unintended consequence of paving the way for much larger developments.

Compatibility with the town’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan was a top concern of Councilor Steve Walker, who said the plan calls for an extended Cook’s Corner area that includes a range of residential uses, office space and small-scale, non-residential uses.

“I don’t read that as 80 percent impervious surface, I don’t read that as 50,000-square-foot buildings,” Walker said. 

The fact that rezoning the area theoretically allows for much larger developments than the one proposed by Crooker also gave Councilor John Perreault pause.

“I’m pro-business, I’m pro-development, but I also have to take into account what could go there, not what is being proposed to go there,” Perreault said. “That’s where my dilemma is at this moment.”

Defending his proposal, Crooker pointed out that larger developments, like a retail store, would probably not be interested in the small parcel, which is encircled by Route 1, Old Bath Road and a mobile home park. 

As a compromise, Breinich suggested rezoning the area using the same guidelines outlined in the draft ordinance, allowing for 50 percent impermeable surface.

Councilors seemed more amenable to that proposal, but wanted to review the entire draft ordinance before making a decision about the single parcel. 

They voted 6-3 to table the request and to set a public hearing about the new rezoning proposal. Walker, Brayman and Millett voted against both measures. 

The possible compromise did not sit well with Crooker, who expressed his frustration with the council’s decision in an interview after the vote.

Although it is possible to use porous asphalt to comply with the 50 percent standard, it would increase the price of the development substantially, and may not effectively handle storm-water runoff, he said.

“I think it may cost it right out of sight,” Crooker said of the impact the council’s vote might have on the development. “They took 30 percent of the land away, they drove the cost up, I think they drove the project out.”

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.