CAPE ELIZABETH — To the disappointment of some Charles Road residents and the joyful tears of 553 Shore Road owner Lee Wilson, the Town Council on Monday approved an overhaul of the Business-A zone, including the rezoning of Wilson’s lot into the business district.
The 553 Shore Road proposal and changes to business restrictions and site design passed in two separate votes, both 4-2, with Councilor David Backer and Council Chairman James Rowe opposed. Changes to the Route 77 BA zone map passed unanimously. Councilor Paul McKenney was absent.
After more than a year of meetings, including two council workshops since the most recent public hearing held May 11, Wilson can move forward with her plans to convert the yellow, century-old house across from the former Cookie Jar bakery into a small retail shop with office space on the second floor and a one-bedroom apartment on the third.
Wilson said Tuesday that she has asked that her site plan be included in the Planning Board’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, June 16. The plan, she said, is “awesome.”
“It’s going to be pretty, with beautiful landscaping and pedestrian access,” she said, adding that she expects the business will actually slow traffic in the area, since there will be something to look at.
She said she plans to use the 900-square-foot first-floor living area as a small shop selling gifts, home decorations, antiques and possibly dollhouse miniatures. She has said before that the small second-floor offices would be suited for a one-or-two-person operation, such as an interior decorator or real estate agent.
Wilson, however, is moving forward cautiously. Over the past year, she said, she has faced neighborhood opposition that she called “juvenile,” unprofessional and disrespectful. Though she hasn’t heard from any of the Charles Road neighbors since the proposal was approved Monday, “I’m sure they’re scheming their next attack,” she said. “I’ve never seen so much anger coming out of those households.”
Among those frustrated neighbors are David Sanford and his wife, Joyce Wilson-Sanford (unrelated to Lee Wilson), whose home at the corner of Shore and Charles roads directly abuts Wilson’s property. Sanford said Tuesday that he and his Charles Road neighbors held out hope that Monday’s vote would go in their favor – or at least deadlock in a 3-3 tie – especially since they’d recently submitted an alternate proposal that would allow all the uses Wilson wanted while keeping the property within the residential zone.
Calling their proposed zone a “residential overlay transition zone,” Sanford said it’s an idea used in other communities where business uses so closely neighbor residences.
“It was a serious and generous compromise,” he said, that left him frustrated when it didn’t receive more attention.
At Monday’s meeting, several councilors said they were uncertain why they shouldn’t support the zoning change when neighbors had agreed that the proposed uses were already included within their own proposal. Uses many resident said they don’t want to see, such as a restaurant, would not be allowed under lot-size and proximity-to-residences restrictions added to the ordinance.
Charles Road residents Monday said their greatest fear is that the rezoning of 553 Shore Road signals the start of a more widespread rezoning effort that threatens the rest of the neighborhood. Sanford agreed Tuesday that he’s afraid his own house has such business potential that when they sell the home, “it will be next.”
“That’s how neighborhoods get dismembered,” he said.
Both councilors voting against rezoning the property and changing business restrictions said they did so purely out of concern for residents’ property rights.
Backer suggested that Wilson bought her Shore Road property well aware that it was within the residential zone, and therefore should have held no expectations that her property could become commercial, while “the neighbors have had every reasonable expectation that their neighborhood would remain a residential neighborhood.”
“If I were living next door,” he went on, “I would want the status quo.”
Rowe agreed that the rezoning is an “encroachment on one of the most historical neighborhoods” in town, and was supportive of the transition zone proposed by the neighbors.
Rowe and Backer were defeated by Councilors Sara Lennon, Anne Swift-Kayatta, David Sherman and Penny Jordan, who supported the proposed changes and their potential to bring new commercial life to the neighborhood. Several of those councilors, including Lennon, disagreed with the Charles Road residents, and tried to allay fears by saying that “this does not represent a growing, creeping business zone.”
Lennon also said that the one of the largest parts of the ordinance changes – new design standards – were buried under the controversy over 553 Shore Road. The standards, she said, will require new buildings or uses to be “quainter, smaller and more visually appealing, set out to discourage what the neighbors fear.”
Though the zoning decisions have been made, residents will still have the opportunity to voice remaining concerns during site plan review for any new businesses or changes of use for existing businesses.
Next Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting will be held in the Jordan Conference Room on the first floor of Town Hall at 7 p.m.
Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.