Falmouth house is really an office building, TideSmart says

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FALMOUTH — The owner of the TideSmart Global marketing firm wants to change the use of a recently built house on the company’s U.S. Route 1 campus from residential to commercial.

Steve Woods, who is also a columnist for The Forecaster, said he doesn’t view it as a switch because when he bought the property it “was zoned for commercial use.”

A previous residential structure on the property had to be torn down because of water damage. Woods said when he rebuilt the property he “did so as a house.”

However, he said he realized the town “wants structures within zones to be conforming,” so he built the house to the “greater commercial standards.”

“My intention was to rebuild it as a house, while at the same time knowing it exists on a commercial lot,” Woods said. “I wanted to make sure I complied with zoning and made sure it met all commercial standards as well as residential standards.”

The proposal to switch uses for the energy-efficient house was originally on a June 2 Planning Board agenda, before being tabled the day before the meeting.

Ethan Croce, the town’s senior planner, said there is a provision in the zoning ordinance that prohibits commercial buildings within 75 feet of the Residential A zoning district.

That restriction would apply to the so-called Viridescent House, which Woods and TideSmart have promoted as the “most energy-efficient building” in Maine.

According to the ordinance, the 75-foot buffer is to eliminate or minimize “any adverse effects upon the environmental or aesthetic qualities of abutting properties” or anything affecting the health, safety, welfare and property values of town residents.

“So the current structure doesn’t meet that setback,” Croce said.

He said if Woods gets permission from the Board of Zoning Appeals he would then be able to bring an application before the Planning Board for site plan approval.

Croce said the house is in the non-conforming BP district. Commercial use, while permitted in the underlying BP district, would be non-conforming if within 75 feet of the residential district property line.

“He did not indicate any intention of converting it to commercial use (when the structure was built),” Croce said.

Justin Brown, the town’s code enforcement officer, said Woods came before the BZA seeking to maintain the residential use for the building.

“As far as our files are concerned that was his intent,” Brown said.

Brown said Woods has submitted the new application to the BZA, but he hasn’t had a chance to review it. It will be taken up at the July 28 meeting.

Brown said this is an unusual request for the BZA, because it is technically changing the building from one non-conforming use to another. To get approval, Woods must demonstrate the new use is an improvement to the property or at least poses no greater impact to it.

“We don’t get a lot of these,” Brown said.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said Woods started talking about bringing the house into compliance within the past four to six weeks. He said it wasn’t clear initially what kinds of permits would be needed to change uses.

“It’s been one of those parts of his property that (Woods) been trying to figure out what to do with,” Poore said. “When we spoke earlier this year he talked about the need for more office space and that the house may be a good location for that.”

Woods said the town was “aware and fully supportive” of his intentions as early as January.

Chris Briley, one of the architects who designed the house, said while Woods had wanted to make sure the building could be used commercially, that was not the primary goal.

“From our office standpoint it’s a residential building with the possibility of being commercial,” Briley said. “(Woods) was covering all his bases so he could handle whatever the future might throw at him.”

This is isn’t the first time Woods and TideSmart have run into problems with town zoning rules.

In 2010, Woods built a sign for his company that was deemed out of compliance. The town ultimately amended the Zoning and Site Plan Review Ordinance to accommodate TideSmart.

But the dispute Woods had with the Town Council ultimately led to him to call off construction of a proposed $3 million office building.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Steve Woods, owner of the Falmouth marketing firm TideSmart Global, wants to convert the use of the company’s recently completed Viridescent House from residential to commercial. He will have to go through the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Planning Board to do so.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.