City Hall error leaves Muslim center out of compliance with Portland zoning

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PORTLAND — The city’s granting of the wrong permit two years ago is likely to stall plans of the Maine Muslim Community Center to purchase its Anderson Street building.

The center is a nonprofit organization in the East Bayside Neighborhood. According to the city attorney, Gary Wood, the center applied two years ago for an indoor amusement and recreation center permit for 118 Anderson St., an allowed use in the industrial light business zone.

A city inspector, however, issued the organization a permit for a community center, which is not allowed in the zone.

“They got permission for use of the building,” Wood said, “but there was a mistake.”

Now the organization has a contract to purchase the building. But when the city became aware of the arrangement, Wood said he notified the broker that the property was not properly permitted.

“We need to address the issue of it being an unpermitted use,” Wood said.

On Tuesday night, the City Council was scheduled to go into a closed-door session to discuss options for dealing with the problem. Most of the discussion, however, ended up being public because the council ruled out any options that would have involved litigation.

“I feel the matter before us can be successfully deliberated as a land-use issue,” Councilor John Anton said.

Wood said the city had options that would put the community center in compliance. Portland could either extend a nearby business zone to 118 Anderson St. – and in the process rezone a few other parcels, too – or give the community center a contract zone. The city could also add community centers to the permitted use in the existing zone.

Councilors seemed to favor giving the center a contract zone, but decided to refer the matter to the Planning Board for a recommendation.

Although going through the Planning Board is likely to delay the process a couple of months, Wood said he has already told the potential buyers and sellers that the issue is unlikely to be resolved by the scheduled closing of the sale at the end of May.

“I informed them they would most likely have to wait,” Wood said.

No one from the Maine Muslim Community Center could be contacted Tuesday night for comment.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net

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