City Council again delays vote on Elks Lodge zoning

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PORTLAND — It will take almost another month before the City Council decides whether to grant a zoning change sought on outer Congress Street.

Whether to allow an extension of office park zoning on land owned by the Portland Elks at 1945 Congress St. remained unresolved Monday after a third vote to postpone the matter.

Councilors will take the question off the table on Jan. 20, after they hope to have more information about housing options on land the Elks would like to sell to Northland Enterprises for $1.25 million.

Councilors, meanwhile, approved an early closing on the purchase of property at 212 Canco Road for use by the Public Works Department, and fast-tracked the removal of a deteriorating smokestack at the Barron Center on Brighton Avenue.

What information councilors are seeking about the Elks property was not fully determined, although City Manager Jon Jennings asked for specifics, and quickly.

“If you choose to postpone to Jan. 20, we need clear direction,” he said.

City Planning & Urban Development Director Jeff Levine on Tuesday said he was still waiting for that direction.

“We will be seeking some guidance on what information or analysis would be most helpful,” he said.

Northland principal Josh Benthian again said housing is not a viable option for the seven-acre parcel, where he would like to build two office buildings totaling 40,000 square feet.

He also said the plans for new offices for Clark Insurance and Dr. Michael Bedecs will need to be revised after the zoning change is granted and he provides master and site plans to the Planning Board.

“We have heard loud and clear from (Stroudwater Village Association) there are issues about our site plan that need to be worked on,” he said.

Clark Insurance President Jeff Shaw said the 25,000-square-foot office building planned for the rear of the property is just what his company needs.

“We found the Elks Lodge site to be ideal for what we need to accomplish,” he said.

Abutters and neighbors, including Bill Linnell of Congress Street, remain unconvinced housing will not fit on the land, and said the council needs to live up to promises to provide more housing in the city.

“A seven-acre parcel is a rare find,” Linnell said as he detailed plans association members independently sought, which show housing could provide as much profit for the Elks as selling land for commercial use.

Councilors Ed Suslovic and Spencer Thibodeau opposed the third postponement, this time proposed by Councilor Belinda Ray. Suslovic moved to have the vote postponed in October to get more information on the Jetport Master Plan and proposed change in traffic patterns on Congress Street.

The vote was postponed again Nov. 2, that time at the request of city staff.

“I, for one, am satisfied everyone has been heard,” Suslovic said. “I have struggled to find any significant negative impact on the neighborhood.”

Thibodeau said the council needed to vote on the zone request being proposed, instead of considering housing options that did not yet exist.

Ray said she needed more time and information.

“I’d like to know if this is a really bad idea,” she said.

Levine said a true housing feasibility study could take six months to a year. The requests from Association members for a wider study on zoning and planning in the neighborhood were difficult to meet because of other planning work, including revising the city’s comprehensive plan.

Canco Road

Councilors approved Jennings’ request to exercise the option to buy 4.2 acres at 212 Canco Road a year early, as well as the $150,000 payment to the sellers, the Nelson family. The money “represents a portion of the base rent from the two commercial tenants,” according to council documents.

Jennings said the payment will be offset by savings in lease payments by the city to the property owners, and because the city will be leasing the property to the commercial tenants through 2018.

The site was formerly the distribution point for appliance dealer Nelson and Small. The city will also purchase the former Pepsi Co. warehouse at 250 Canco, adjacent to 212 Canco Road, to create the new base of operations for the city Public Works Department.

All current and former operations Public Works operations housed in the Bayside area have or will be shifted to Canco Road.


Councilors approved a $40,000 allocation from the Clement P. Wescott Trust Fund, established in 1975, to fund the removal of the smokestack at the Barron Center.

The work will be done by Gray Goose Masonry. The order was passed as an emergency measure so the job could be done before winter weather interferes. 

Wescott bequeathed the trust fund, which will keep a balance of $279,000, for maintenance and improvements to the city-owned assisted living center.

 David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The City Council on Monday postponed until Jan. 20, 2016, a vote on new zoning at the Portland Elks Lodge on outer Congress Street.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.