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South Portland debates closing road for retail project

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South Portland debates closing road for retail project

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday night held a special workshop to hear a revised proposal to discontinue Gorham Road Extension for construction of a strip mall.

The new proposal would discontinue 600 feet of Gorham Road Extension from the Western Avenue intersection, rather than the original proposal of 175 feet.

However, it was also suggested that the entire 1,000-foot road, which connects Westbrook Street to Western Avenue behind Ricetta's Brick Oven Pizzeria, be discontinued so the city would not have to build special turnarounds for city plow trucks.

Mayor Tom Coward said the length of the discontinuance is not an issue. 

"Whether you close 100 feet or 600 feet is no different," Coward said. "If you close 6 inches of that road, the (Gorham Road Extension-Western Avenue) intersection is closed."

When a road is discontinued, state law requires the discontinued portion to be deeded to the abutting landowners, absolving the city of maintenance responsibilities.

Councilor Tom Blake said he has concerns about the project. Blake argued against statements from planners and councilors that the Gorham Road Extension is not used by residents who live in the densely populated Redbank Village, Liberty Commons, Old English Village and Brickhill developments.

"I am absolutely amazed by the vehicles that use that road," Blake said.

Blake also questioned whether there was proper notice prior to the workshop. He said the scheduling circumvented the public process and "smacks of doing someone a favor."

Closure of the Gorham Road Extension is part of an agreement the city has with Vincent Maietta, who was the only bidder for a triangular piece of property off Western Avenue that was once seized by eminent domain for a city fire station.

The sales agreement between the city and Maietta is contingent upon the project receiving all necessary approvals.

Assistant City Manager Erik Carson said the discussion was scheduled after Monday's council meeting so the land sale could be closed this fiscal year. Maietta said he has received environmental permits and has paid $20,000 in local and state impact fees.

"The fact that Mr. Maietta has a site plan location permit does speed up our interest in moving this forward," he said. "We are also facing potential budget issues, and if we close on this property this fiscal year, that would be great. I won't make any promises though."

Once developed, officials project the development will generate up to $80,000 annually in property taxes.

Maietta said he has received environmental permits to build a 34,000-square-foot shopping plaza at 85 Western Ave. He said Buffalo Wings & Things and Subway have already signed letters of intent to lease space.

Maietta said he would like to close on the property as soon as possible so he can begin building the plaza on nearly three acres of land – the city's 1.4-acre parcel on Western Avenue and a 1.5-acre parcel he owns next to Redbank Village.

In addition to the street discontinuance, Maietta said he is seeking a zone change that would reduce setbacks on Western Avenue and in Redbank Village to provide the necessary parking.

Before shovels can be put in the ground, however, there are several obstacles, the least of which is closing Gorham Road.

Carson said it will cost up to $350,000 to move utilities underneath the street, including a fiber-optic line, electrical wires, water mains and gas lines. That work was originally estimated to cost $400,000, but Carson said he has negotiated the reduced cost.

Maietta agreed to pay the city $600,000 for the city-owned land, provided that $200,000 of it be used to move the utilities. Ultimately, Carson said the council will have to decide whether to make up the difference. 

The council first considered that request at an October 2008 workshop, and directed the city manager to try and convince Fairpoint Communications to move the fiber-optic lines in the city right of way. Absent that, many councilors were skeptical about picking up the tab.

Though no vote was taken, the council this week reached a consensus to forward the request for a discontinuance and zone change to the Planning Board.

City Planner Steve Puleo said the board will hold a workshop on the proposal after its Feb. 9 meeting and will likely hold a formal vote on Feb. 23.

The proposal will then return to the City Council for final approvals.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net