Freeport council OKs height exemption for Main St. retail project

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FREEPORT — Contract zoning has been approved for demolition and reconstruction at 56-58 Main St., although the overall project has yet to be officially approved.

The Denney Block, owned by George Denney of Freeport, is being purchased by Berenson Associates, a development company responsible for Freeport Village Station.

Berenson wants to demolish part of one building and construct an addition in an open courtyard between two existing buildings.

The Town Council on Jan. 20 approved contract zoning for the project by a vote of 5-1, with Councilor Andy Wellen opposed. Chairwoman Melanie Sachs was absent.

Contract zoning is allowed, by council approval, when a unique or unusual circumstance arises. Berenson needed contract zoning because of building height restrictions. 

Maximum building height in Freeport is 35 feet. The height of a building isn’t determined by its highest point, but by the average height of all four sides. Because the Denney Block is built on a slope, the back is much taller than the front and the average height is greater than 35 feet.

Council approval of contract zoning is only one part of the process Berenson and its Boston-based architect, Arrowstreet, must go through before they can receive full project approval.

The Planning Board is discussing, but not voting on, the project on Feb. 4. The board will make comments on the project and then send it to the Project Review Board, which will discuss it further and send it back to council for a final vote.

On Jan. 20, many councilors had positive things to say about the project.

“I think the project has the power to regenerate the downtown,” Councilor Sarah Tracy said. 

Berenson hasn’t said what exactly will go into the new building, except that it will contain several retailers. It will be attached to the existing buildings and the stores will be interconnected. There will also be an elevator for accessibility.

Councilor Kristina Egan said accessibility is very important.

“I’m excited for this project because it fills a need in our downtown,” she said.

Councilor Scott Gleeson, who represents District 1, said his constituents don’t oppose the project, but that some of them have concerns.

He said people have written to him with concerns that the development won’t fit in or have the same character as the surrounding buildings. Gleeson said Berenson should keep that in mind if the project is approved.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.