CUMBERLAND — A formal proposal to put a credit union office on Main Street was heard Monday by the Town Council, one month after a neighborhood forum on the idea brought out local concerns about traffic, parking and business in general in the residentially zoned town center.
Atlantic Regional Federal Credit Union, through New Hampshire developer The Long Group, hopes to get a contract zone to open a branch at the former Chase Flower Shop property.
Atlantic Regional is a 68-year-old Maine company with membership open to anyone in Cumberland and Sagadahoc counties. It serves 17,400 members through branches in Brunswick, Freeport and Topsham. About 70 of those members live in Cumberland.
Credit unions are member-owned non-profit financial institutions. Members of any credit union can do their banking at any other credit union’s branch, adding to their customer convenience.
In order to build the branch on Main Street, the company must apply for a contract zone. Though the property was formerly grandfathered as a commercial flower shop, that use lapsed because it sat abandoned for more than one year. The proposed structure, though it would use approximately the same footprint as the existing structure, would also violate some setback requirements that were grandfathered into the old use.
Though parking and traffic issues remain a concern, councilors and neighbors seemed generally OK with the idea of the credit union, and said they were impressed by several changes to the site design made after the neighborhood meeting in December.
Those changes include redesigning the drive-through to look less like a carport and more like a carriage house, and moving some proposed curbside parking on Farwell Avenue to the Post Office side of the street.
To build those parking spaces, the site plan calls for widening Farwell Avenue into the easement and improving the turning radius from northbound Main Street onto Farwell Avenue, improving safety at an often awkward intersection. The changes and added access back onto Main Street through the bank’s drive-through lane are expected to ease congestion on Farwell Avenue, according to a traffic engineer hired by the credit union, and help prevent what currently occurs on the street: dangerous u-turns and backing up onto Main Street in order to turn around after visiting the Post Office. The current site plan also includes adding sidewalks to both sides of Farwell Avenue, extending a sidewalk along Main Street, and moving a nearby crosswalk on Main Street to the signaled intersection of Cottage Farms Road.
While several councilors said that they were tempted purely by the street and sidewalk improvements, not all the neighbors were convinced.
Kay Mullen, a Farwell Avenue resident, said she is concerned about putting an entrance to a commercial building on a residential street, since the site plan calls for an entrance and exit on Farwell Ave, and an exit-only onto Main Street.
Melissa Gattine, also a Farwell Avenue resident, said she is concerned about the increase of traffic onto her street. Gattine was also concerned that the proposed curbside parking spaces would cut into her property, which is next to the Post Office.
Dan Nuzzi, who lives on Main Street, said he is concerned more with the idea of putting business into a residential zone, despite the flower shop history. While some suggested that a credit union is a fundamentally different use than a flower shop, Nuzzi said simply that the proposed bank doesn’t fulfill the requirements of a contract zone – included in the contract zone ordinance are requirements that the proposed use serve a public purpose or benefit.
Main Street resident Carolyn Currie, speaking after the meeting, said that to some extent, she agreed with Nuzzi. “I would rather see a coffee shop there, something that gives access to everybody and builds community. If we’re going to allow business (on Main Street), we should be careful which businesses we allow, and not just go with the first one.”
Councilors voted 5-1 to send the proposal to the Planning Board, with Councilor Michael Perfetti opposed because of his opposition to using contract zones versus defining an overlay district for the entire area. Councilor Stephen Moriarty has recused himself from all discussion because of business ties to the developer and credit union.
The Planning Board will hold a public hearing before sending the matter back to the council, and the council will hold a public hearing before giving its final say. After the council’s final vote, anyone opposed to the approved proposal has 30 days to gather signatures and appeal, which could lead to a referendum vote.
In other business, councilors approved victualler’s and liquor licenses for The Sparrows Nest, which will take over The Viking Grill at Val Halla. Owner Charles Sparrow said the bar and grill will officially open on April 1.
Councilors also set a public hearing for Feb. 9 to authorize Town Manager Bill Shane to issue a more than $3 million bond for reconstruction of Range Road, and set a public hearing for Feb. 23 to rezone the Doane Property off Drowne Road between the Town Forest and Route 9 from rural residential to a new village mixed use zone allowing dense residential, office commercial and retail uses.
In a workshop following the meeting, councilors also began work to remove contradictions and inconsistencies from the non-conforming use ordinance, giving more flexibility and rights to property owners with non-conforming uses. The issue came about because of the prevalence of non-conforming business uses on Main Street.