More changes sought at Willard Square in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A public forum on Thursday, Oct. 1, will focus on proposed zone changes that would allow a long-awaited art studio and a new mixed-use building to be built on Willard Square.

The proposed changes are being requested by Lisa Foster, who wants to convert a home at Preble and Willow streets into an art studio and later include a farmer’s market, and Paul Leddy, a local developer who owns a largely vacant parcel on the square, next to his Willard Scoops ice cream shop. 

Although Foster’s project has been on the table for some time, Leddy’s proposal is new.

Leddy’s plans for the 1/3-acre lot at Pillsbury and Preble streets include a 2,300-square-foot restaurant facing Preble Street and a 1,640-square-foot retail store facing Pillsbury. Six residential condos would occupy the second and third floors, and parking would be located between the development and Willard Square fire station on Pillsbury. There is currently an 1800s-era home on part of that lot.

City Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser said both plans were warmly received by neighbors at a community meeting last week, especially Leddy’s sketches, which were inspired by the surrounding architecture and show a three-story building with gables, wrapping around the corner.

“On the whole, I felt the reception generally was positive,” Haeuser said in an e-mail. “People in particular liked the sketches Paul Leddy showed of his proposed building (pitched roofs, gables, a lot of articulation) and hoped he would be able to build it soon.”

Although the zoning changes would increase the maximum density of the village commercial zone from 13 units per acre to 20, Leddy would essentially be able to build six residential units instead of four, allowing him to invest more into the project. It would also allow the restaurant to have outdoor seating on the square.

Leddy said Haeuser encouraged him to build more residential condos. “I looked at doing eight (condos), but it taxes the property too much,” he said.  

For Foster, who helped usher in the village commercial zone at the square several years ago, the changes would remove several obstacles that have stymied progress for the art studio, which was originally scheduled to open during the summer.

The proposed zone changes would halve the parking requirements for the art studio and increase the trigger for projects requiring site plan review from 1,000 square feet to 2,000. The changes would also allow a farmer’s market, which has been mentioned as a companion use to the studio, as a special exception use, which would require special city approval.  

Other changes would reduce the setback from residences to six feet from 15 feet, allow fitness centers that include yoga and Pilates studios, and restrict the size and height of signs. Shared vehicle services through a homeowners association would count toward off-street parking.

Leddy said his roughly $1.2 million project will not likely move forward until next summer at the earliest, given the zoning process and economy. He said he would like to pre-sell between 50 percent and 75 percent of the units before beginning construction.

“In this economy, I wouldn’t do it any other way,” Leddy said.

Until then, Leddy, whose Mill Cove Landing project in Knightville involved extensive public feedback and was subsequently welcomed by the city and residents alike, said the Willard Square project would likely change over time to address concerns or desires of neighbors.

“When you do a project like this, it’s like molding a piece of clay,” he said. 

The Oct. 1 public forum will start at 7 p.m. in City Hall council chambers, 25 Cottage Road. Subsequent public hearings will be held by both the Planning Board and City Council.  

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or