Freeport may try overlay zoning to restrict businesses

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FREEPORT — Commercial uses may soon be excluded from a small neighborhood near downtown if an overlay zoning amendment is approved by the Planning Board and Town Council.

Residents on Cottage and Forest streets, two dead-end roads accessible from West Street, petitioned for the amendment after a house on Cottage Street was converted into office space. The streets are in the Village 1 District.

A draft of the amendment that went before the Planning Board Jan. 6 proposes excluding schools, municipal facilities, private assemblies, business and professional offices, bed-and-breakfast inns, nursing homes, day-care facilities, construction services, and parking areas from the district. It would not apply to existing uses, but expansions would be prohibited.

Not excluded from uses in the Village 1 District are multi-family units, religious institutions and public utilities. The amendment also wouldn’t affect people who work out of their homes, as long as they don’t have customers or clients coming and going.

The Planning Board set a public hearing for next month to discuss creating an overlay district in the neighborhood.

Councilor Scott Gleeson, who represents District 1, brought the issue to the Town Council on Dec. 15, 2015. The council recommended that the Planning Board discuss a zoning amendment that would prohibit future commercial uses in the Village 1 District.

Gleeson addressed the Planning Board on Jan. 6, saying many residents have come to him with concerns about having a business in their neighborhood, even though the use is allowed. He said residents want their neighborhood to keep a “residential feel.”

A supporting petition was signed by 22 residents of Forest and Cottage streets, making the neighbors’ push for the amendment “virtually unanimous,” Gleeson said. According to a letter to the Town Council from Town Manager Peter Joseph, the petition was first presented to the town’s Project Review Board last September, when the office space on Cottage Street was approved.

At the Jan. 6 meeting, Planning Board members asked if anyone from other neighborhoods in the Village 1 District wanted the zoning amendment approved, and no one came forward. Board members said they have only heard from residents on Forest and Cottage streets, and don’t want to pass an amendment that would only affect a small group of people.

“I’d love to give you absolutely what you want, but the onus is on us to think about the town and what’s going to happen going forward,” board member Wendy Caisse said. “Is this the responsible thing to do, for you know, 60 years from now?”

That’s when some members suggested giving the amendment to Forest and Cottage streets in an overlay zone.

“Maybe we try it with one neighborhood … and see how the process goes, and then look at other pockets,” member Aaron Cannan said.

The board said if other neighborhoods would like the overlay zone applied, they would have to petition the board. 

If approved at the Planning Board public hearing next month, the overlay zone amendment would then go to the Town Council for final approval.

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.