Developer drops plan for former church in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — An application to rezone and redevelop a former church in Thorton Heights has been withdrawn less than a month after it was submitted to the city.

The withdrawal was announced by Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser at a Planning Board meeting Tuesday night, May 10, when the application was scheduled to be discussed by the board for the first time.

Haeuser said Wednesday morning that he didn’t know what led developer Kerry Anderson to withdraw the application, but it could have been related to Anderson’s negotiations with the property owner, Cafua Management.

Assistant City Manager Josh Reny on Thursday said he believed Anderson’s contract to purchase the property expired and the developer could not obtain an extension.

Anderson, of KDA Development in Scarborough, applied for a zone change last month for the lot at 611 Main St., between Aspen and Thirlmere avenues. The property includes the former St. John the Evangelist Church, parish house and school building. 

His request was to rezone the back acre of the lot, which is currently in a Residential A zone, to conform with the rest of the nearly 2-acre lot in the Maine Street Community Commercial zone.

The zone change would have allowed commercial parking in the rear of the lot, commercial use of the 1960s-era church, and increased density to accommodate housing in the circa-1960 school building.

In a preliminary sketch submitted to the Planning Department, Anderson also proposed demolishing the former parish house to allow construction of a commercial building.

According to his application, Anderson had agreed to purchase the property from Cafua, the Methuen, Massachusetts-based company that bought the lot in December 2013 with the aim of building a drive-through Dunkin’ Donuts. The proposal was abandoned after it provoked vigorous opposition from neighborhood residents.

Anderson said early last month that his proposal would serve all interests of the neighborhood; the preservation of the church would be in keeping with many of the neighbors’ wishes, and the residential and business development would be “completely in keeping with the (city’s) Comprehensive Plan.”

He conducted at least one meeting with neighbors, among whom his preliminary proposal was generally well-received. 

Anderson did not return phone calls or text messages Wednesday and Thursday seeking more information about why he withdrew the application.

A handful of Thornton Heights residents attended the Planning Board meeting Tuesday before learning the application had been withdrawn.

Afterwards, Thirlmere Avenue resident Joyce Mendoza, in an email to neighbors and Haeuser, called Anderson’s decision to withdraw “highly unfortunate.”

“In my opinion, Kerry’s  plans were the closest match to what the neighborhood was looking for,” Mendoza said. “When another potential buyer appears over the horizon, I hope the city will proactively contact the future developer to explore how the property can best fit into our neighborhood.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

An application submitted last month by a Scarborough developer to rezone and repurpose the buildings at 611 Main St., which include the former St. John the Evangelist Church, has been withdrawn.

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.