Longfellow Avenue residents air concerns about re-zoning

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BRUNSWICK — As Bowdoin College prepares to take ownership of the Longfellow School, some neighbors have expressed concern that the quiet Longfellow Avenue neighborhood might soon become a bustling part of the campus.

Although students cross the street daily on their way to the swimming pool or fields, and spectators of sporting events often park their cars along the side of the road, the neighborhood has retained its residential feel.

Now residents are trying to ensure that atmosphere does not change if Bowdoin acquires the elementary school, which is set to close in June.

“The (Longfellow) School is a good neighbor and we want to be sure that what is replaced will also be a good neighbor,” said Al Fuchs, who lives on Longfellow Ave.

Fuchs, along with other members of the College Neighbors Association, met informally last week with members of the Brunswick planning department, town council and town manager to discuss proposed changes to the zoning of the Longfellow School property.

At the April 6 Town Council meeting, the town and the college officially proposed swapping the Longfellow School for the McLellan office building on the corner of Noble and Union streets, a deal that had been the subject of rumors for years.

Two options for the swap have been suggested; in the first, the college would buy the school from Brunswick for $2 million, and the town would inherit McLellan at no charge. The second option is a straight swap with no money exchanged.

In either case, Bowdoin would need the parcel to be re-zoned. Currently, the school is zoned as R-1 residential district, which only permits single-family housing or duplexes. According to Town Planner Kris Hultgren, the R-1 district only covers Longfellow Avenue, and is the most restrictive in Brunswick. Because the school was there before the zoning, it has been grandfathered in.

Bowdoin has requested that the school be re-zoned to a new zone created for the property, called College Use 7. The new zone would allow the college to convert the school into office or administrative buildings.

Hultgren said the details of the new zoning district are still being worked out, and couldn’t offer any details on height, lighting, parking or other restrictions.

But he said the College Use 7 district, which will only apply to the Longfellow School, was “a special situation … to help meet the needs of Bowdoin while addressing concerns of the neighbors.”

The planning department has already reacted to some of the questions raised by members of the College Neighbors Association at last week’s meeting. The town’s planners promised to work with Bowdoin to place a deed restriction on the property so that it could never be used as student housing.

Neighbors also questioned a map of the proposed zoning changes that would have re-zoned additional Bowdoin-owned parcels along South Street as College Use 7, including the pine tree stand next to the Longfellow School and the Bowdoin College Children’s Center.

But after hearing from residents who were worried that would open the door to further development on the street, the planners agreed to limit the re-zoning to just the Longfellow School property.

Connie Lundquist, a member of the College Neighbors Association, said she thought the meeting went well, and that the town planners had made as many changes as possible without reneging on items they had discussed with the college. She said she was looking forward to meeting with the college next, although nothing has been scheduled yet.

“I think people, when they know what to expect and feel like they’ve had a voice, are much more likely to accept what is (changing) than just being told, ‘this is what it is,'” she said.

According to Town Manager Gary Brown, the outcome of the Longfellow-McLellan swap discussion will be presented as part of the capital improvement plan at a June Town Council meeting.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.