Freeport Planning Board considers zoning amendments for soccer fields

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FREEPORT — The Planning Board will consider amending the zoning ordinance or using site- or project-specific alternatives, like contract zoning or an overlay district, for a proposed indoor soccer arena.

The Town Council approved a deal last December with Seacoast United Maine, a nonprofit soccer club based in Topsham, but indoor recreational facilities are not an approved use according to the town’s zoning ordinance.

At a Planning Board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 5, Michael Healy, past president of the soccer club, said the proposed plan is to build two outdoor turf fields and an indoor arena near the recycling center on Hedgehog Mountain Road. Healy said the indoor arena would house three turf fields, concessions, bathrooms, offices and a mezzanine floor for additional recreational uses. 

According to Town Planner Donna Larson, the indoor arena is proposed in the Rural Residential 1 zone, an area that includes nearly 70 percent of the land in Freeport.

The Planning Board wanted to address the situation by applying a contract zone, but after town councilors, residents and neighbors spoke against the suggestion, they are less likely to pursue that path, Larson said. 

The board must decide if the project warrants a change, she said, and if so, what type.

It can recommend an amendment to the zoning ordinance to allow indoor recreation facilities in the district; it can allow contract zoning in the rural residential district, or develop a contract that is tailored to the land and the needs of abutting properties, or develop a new use for the district.

Or the board can decide the use is not acceptable for the area and leave the ordinance unchanged.

“The concept of the outdoor turf fields are fine, but the indoor arena needs to be reviewed,” Larson said. “The Planning board is only advisory here, and the final decision will be made by the (Town Council).”

Contract zoning is project- and land-specific, Lawson said, and focuses narrowly on the specific site and the neighbors. If the board recommends making changes to the ordinance, the entire RR-1 zone would be altered. An overlay district, as proposed by Councilor Eric Pandora, would limit the geographic area of a project, allowing a use that wouldn’t otherwise be permitted on a specific parcel.

If the project were a municipal facility, had an outdoor commercial recreation use, was a public or private school, or a campground, it would be subject to a site review, but permissible. Other site review projects include cemeteries, bed and breakfast inns, day care facilities or nursing homes.

Healy said he drafted language to ensure the changes would be restricted to the indoor arena. But Wendy Caisse, the Planning Board chairwoman, said the board needs to look at this zone as a whole, and that a decision to change the ordinance would affect more than just the Seacoast proposal.

Board member Greg Savona said he is wary of creating blanket language in the zoning ordinance that would allow for many uses in the residential area. Member Theresa Olkewsiw said her biggest concern if the ordinance is changed is the potential impact on the quality of life in the rural zone.

Pat Palmer, a resident of the RR-1 district, said she is not in favor of the contract zoning. She said if the project is going to move forward, she would want the use to be specific to this facility, and not expanded to the entire zone.

Walter Libby of Murch Road said he supports the community-owned fields on Hunter Road, but does not want the Seacoast United facility to infringe on his lifestyle. Particularly, he said, he does not want to be disturbed by lighting and noise.

“The night out there is quiet,” he said. “(The arena) is going to adversely affect the area I live in and I do not like that.”

Caisse said the board will take a site walk on Oct. 29, look at the Comprehensive Plan and review the zoning ordinance. It will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 2, and make a final recommendation to the council.

The site walk will start at 9 a.m., rain or shine, at the parking area on Hedgehog Mountain and Pownal roads. After reviewing the site of the proposed indoor arena, the board will visit other areas in the RR-1 zone that are not typical rural uses, such as nursing homes and campgrounds.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson

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