In South Portland, pent-up demand for smaller homes

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Reflecting a housing shortage in the city and a revised zoning policy, an increasing number of property owners are dividing their lots and building homes in spaces smaller than what the city historicially allowed.

Through June 30, six property owners have split their lots and applied for building permits, according to information provided by the city, and more are expected in the second half of the year.

The city halted building on these so-called nonconforming lots, often referred to as infill lots, in 2016 after a lawsuit over a property on Thirlmere Avenue caused the city to re-examine lots that did not conform to zoning standards.

Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser said there’s been steady demand to build on nonconforming lots since a revised ordinance passed Feb. 6.

“There is definitely a continuing interest in these kinds of homes,” Haeuser said.

On Feb. 6, councilors approved an ordinance that requires Planning Board approval before building on nonconforming residential lots. The council also amended the minimum lot sizes in residential A and AA zones, to a range of 6,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet.

In a single-family development report by Haeuser that covered Feb. 6 through June 30, six of the 10 building permits issued were for infill lots.

Among the nonconforming lots on which new homes were built are 18 and 22 Osborne Ave. Both were recently listed for sale and didn’t last long on the market.

Lois Flaherty of Keller Williams Realty in Portland said 18 Osborne Ave., a three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,212-square-foot cottage-style ranch listed for $319,000, was under contract within 12 hours of an open house. It was the first time the property was shown.

“The market in South Portland is crazy,” Flaherty said. “People want to be here; they want to live here.”

There is a “low inventory of homes for sale and lots of buyers,” she added. “Buyers need to put in aggressive offers.”

The ranch at 22 Osborne Ave., a two-bedroom, two-bath, 987-square-foot home, was listed for $279,000 and sold for $275,000 on July 28.

Flaherty said 18 Osbourne was divided, and both properties were sold to Mark Loring of Loring Builders, who built the two homes on Osborne Avenue.

Flaherty said Loring has other nonconforming-lot projects in the works, including one on Pine Street that is not listed in the city’s latest quarterly report.

Haeuser said the ordinance also brought lot sizes in the A and AA zones into conformity with existing lot sizes in those residential zones throughout the city.

Avoiding the Planning Board

Reducing lot sizes does allow some property owners to split their land and build without having to go before the Planning Board, if their lot still conforms. That was the case with a Providence Avenue home, where the 6,000-square-foot infill lot now conforms with the new sizes.

Will and Brittany Cabana said they benefited from the new lot rules, and will have a house built by about the middle of September. The Cabanas’ home was delayed in 2016 when the city halted construction on nonconforming lots.

In November 2015, Will Cabana’s parents said they would give half of their 12,000 square-foot lot to the young couple.

The Cabanas had preliminary approval for their house plan in January 2016, but they were put on hold following the court case in February 2016.

Their Meeting House Hill lot was nonconforming, but is now legal because it fits within the 6,000-square-foot parameter in their neighborhood.

The Cabanas both grew up in South Portland and met at South Portland High School. The couple now live in Portland, but eagerly await the day they can move into 81 Providence Ave.

The couple, who don’t have children yet, plan on raising a family in the 1,400-square-foot 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath Colonial-style home.

Brittany said she is planning on cooking her first turkey in their new home for both of their families at Thanksgiving.

The excited couple visit the construction site almost daily to see the progress, and have even set up a wireless camera so they can see time-lapse photos of the process.

They also regularly attended City Council and Planning Board meetings and workshops while they were waiting for the city to start issuing building permits again.

“It was a long process, but it has been worth it,” Will said.

The Cabanas said they were relieved that under the new rules they didn’t have to go before the Planning Board, which probably saved them thousands of dollars.

When City Council approved the zoning ordinance, “I cried,” Will’s father, Ralph Cabana, said. “I turned and hugged Brittany.”

“This is our forever home,” Brittany said.

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Brittany and Will Cabana are having a home built at 85 Providence Ave., South Portland, on a 6,000-square-foot lot that Will’s parents gave them.

Two recently built homes on nonconforming South Portland lots at 18 Osborne Ave., far left, and 22 Osborne Ave. in South Portland, which sandwich 20 Osborne Ave.

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