Falmouth's TideSmart gets zoning board OK to convert home to office

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FALMOUTH — The owner of TideSmart Global on Tuesday moved a step closer to changing the use of a building on the marketing company’s campus from residential to commercial.

Yarmouth resident Steve Woods, who is a columnist for The Forecaster, planned to go before the Planning Board on June 2 to get approval for the switch. But that discussion was tabled because Woods first had to get permission from the Board of Zoning Appeals.

On Tuesday night, the BZA unanimously approved the proposed conditional use after 90 minutes of discussion. BZA member Stan Given recused himself because his company does work with TideSmart.

The building in question is called the Viridescent House, which Woods has said is “the most energy-efficient building in all of Maine.” He told the BZA it replaced a home at 91 Johnson Road that was damaged beyond repair more than a year ago.

Woods maintained the residential use for the structure, although he told the BZA since the building is in the commercial BP zone, his goal was to remain flexible in case he ever wanted to change the use to commercial. Woods said he wants to do that now because the main TideSmart building at 380 U.S. Route 1 is “at capacity.”

“My intent was not to make a commercial structure, but to have flexibility,” he said.

Tony Calcagni, an attorney for TideSmart and former member of the Planning Board, said the proposed change would be an improvement over the previous use of the structure, because it is in a “business and professional district” where other residential structures are not allowed.

“There are two existing non-conformities, but the good news is you can remove half of those and allow use in the BP district,” Calcagni said.

The Viridescent House is technically non-conforming because it was a residential structure within a commercial zone, and because it falls in a buffer that prohibits commercial structures within 75 feet of the Residential A zoning district.

“This is not a request for rezoning,” Calcagni said, addressing concerns he said neighbors had brought to Woods. “It’s already in the BP (district).”

A handful of residents came out to address the BZA, and most expressed support for approval. Tim Saulter, of Quaker Lane, said he was in favor of the use change because he’d had problems with previous renters of the older home.

“If this was turned around … I’d be in the opposition,” Saulter said. “I spent five years dealing with the renters.”

There was one dissenting voice. Pete McCormack of Woodland Lane said he is concerned about increased vehicle access onto Johnson Road from the TideSmart campus.

“The biggest concern for us is the potential increase in traffic,” he said. He added Johnson Road is on a hill where motorists already drive too fast. “It’s very unsafe. We worry anything … would increase the risk.”

The BZA ultimately sided with Woods. BZA member Nathan Smith said for him it was an issue of whether the change would be beneficial to Falmouth.

“Getting the residential properties out of the business zone is good,” he said.

Woods must now go before the Planning Board for a full site plan review. The board next meets on Aug. 4, but an agenda has not been published.

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

Sidebar Elements

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. The Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday night heard his appeal and supported him. Woods will next have to go through 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.