Drive-thru zoning still a sticking point for Portland councilors

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PORTLAND — In a three-hour meeting Monday, councilors approved extending a business zone along Forest Avenue created in 2016 in the area between Baxter Boulevard and the extension of Preble Street.

However, another zoning amendment almost three years in the making will wait another few weeks for a council vote.

The map change approved Monday pushes the zone to the Interstate 295 exit ramp and crosses Forest Avenue to include parcels next to the Bedford Street intersection.

The zoning map change was to be accompanied by another amendment governing the use of drive-thru windows in some business zones throughout the city. The fate of that amendment will wait until April 22.

Councilors will take a deeper look at what the accompanying amendment entails at a workshop, but have not set the date.

The 2016 zoning change affecting Forest Avenue properties that include Palmer Spring Co. and the Forest Gardens Tavern came as Palmer Spring owner David Weeks had an offer from Rhode Island-based CVS Corp. to buy the properties.

Plans called for a pharmacy with drive-thru service, and councilors barred drive-thru service from the area in response.

“I’ve been in the background dealing with what you guys squashed on me three years ago,” Weeks said.

Weeks asked councilors Monday to reject the map extension and amendment allowing the return of drive-thru service for pharmacies and banks, provided the construction have at least three floors of housing.

Weeks said the requirement means developers will not be able to make a project work because of the associated costs.

Councilors eventually tabled the zoning map amendment to talk about zoning for drive-thru windows, which Councilor Belinda Ray said was a needed incentive for housing development that has been promoted in the 2012 Transforming Forest Avenue plan.

Ray and Councilor Justin Costa were joined by Councilors Spencer Thibodeau, Brian Batson and Jill Duson in opposing the first motion to postpone the vote when it was suggested by Councilor Pious Ali.

“I just don’t understand what information we would get that isn’t here today,” Ray said of the new rules recommended by the Planning Board as an encompassing approach to regulating drive-thru windows.

Councilors Nick Mavodones and Kim Cook supported a postponement, with Mavodones unsure linking three floors of housing to drive-thru windows would be an incentive – as opposed to an impediment – for property owners looking to sell.

Following the rejection of Ali’s postponement motion, Thibodeau then asked for a reconsideration. He noted his own discomfort with allowing drive-thru windows as part of the development.

Duson also shared her ambivalence, saying she was “stuck in the mud” because of her basic opposition to drive-thru windows, even in limited uses.

Councilors then voted 7-2, with Ray and Costa opposed, to reconsider the postponement vote and then push the vote back to April 22.

The zoning deliberations bookended a 90-minute public comment period on non-agenda items as members of the Portland Education Association and residents of Libbytown aired their thoughts on staffing levels at city schools and the potential site of a homeless service center.

“Our goal is the FY2020 budget passed by city councilors will contain no staffing cuts,” PEA President Sue Olson said.

City Councilors have the final say on the School Board budget amount, but no control over line-item spending.

A site off Congress Street near the Cumberland County Jail is not suitable for a 150-bed homeless service center, neighborhood residents told councilors.

“It really feels like the city is not taking the issue as seriously as it needs to; it is not giving it the process it deserves,” Rachel Taylor said. 

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Zoning that blocked the sale of Palmer Spring Co. in 2016 by barring drive-thru service was extended on Forest Avenue by the City Council on Monday.

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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.