Cumberland Town Council eases barriers for small businesses

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council unanimously approved ordinance amendments on Monday, July 12, designed to make it easier to open small businesses.

An zoning amendment recommended by the Planning Board allows up to two different uses on one lot and reduces the minimum lot size in the Rural Industrial District from two acres to 60,000 square feet.

The change was triggered when Joe Loring, a Middle Road property owner who had received approval to run his business in a structure behind his house, moved out of his house and tried to rent it out. Because the lot is about 1.5 acres, and two acres had been required for each use, Loring needed home occupation approval to have both on his property.

When he moved and tried to rent his house and still run his business, though, the codes enforcement officer told him the size of his lot limited his property to a single use.

In a June 10 memo to the Planning Board, Planning Director Carla Nixon said it seemed sensible to allow smaller lot size requirements in that mixed use district, and to permit an additional use on the same lot. She also noted after Monday’s meeting that many lots in that area small home businesses.

The other amendment creates a town site plan ordinance separate from the zoning ordinance. Under it, minor non-residential projects, such as construction of a new structure less than 3,001 square feet that isn’t a single-family home or duplex, can be addressed at the staff level and not have to undergo Planning Board review.

Staff review will be quicker and less expensive, Nixon said.

Two tiers of larger-type projects would go before the Planning Board. Construction of a new structure between 3,001 and 7,000 square feet would undergo minor site plan review, for example, while major site plan review would be required for new buildings of more than 7,000 square feet.

“I think we’ve sent a very strong signal to the communities around us that Cumberland is open for business,” Town Manager Bill Shane said. “We’re going to be developing in a thoughtful and a progressive manner, but we are going to work together and collaboratively with those businesses.”

Nixon said the changes are based on common sense.

“We have small businesses trying to get started, and ordinances tend to be written for the bigger projects,” she said. “And when you go to try to apply them to a small project, it just seems like overkill. And so we’re trying to really respond to that and come up with a more practical way to protect folks’ interest, but also allow the projects to get built.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.