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South Portland council to look at church redevelopment

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South Portland council to look at church redevelopment

SOUTH PORTLAND — A City Council workshop Dec. 9 on the status of city-owned land at the corner of Westbrook and Main streets may center on the future development of St. John the Evangelist Church at 611 Main St.

The church property could become a Dunkin' Donuts, according to development plans shared with neighbors by a representative of Massachusetts-based Cafua Management.

Neighbors opposed to the project would like the city to consider swapping its land to Cafua for the church property, if the developer's plans are approved.

Mayor Jerry Jalbert Thursday said the urgency of the issue led to adding it to the council's Monday night agenda at the Community Center, but added there are limits to what the council can officially discuss.

“It is hard to say what is coming out of the workshop, we really can't workshop a private transaction,” Jalbert said.

The city-owned land is next to an existing Dunkin' Donuts at 633 Main St., and is seen by some church neighbors as a better site for a new restaurant.

On Tuesday, neighborhood resident Brian Forst said he submitted a petition to councilors and City Manager Jim Gailey with 81 signatures from residents of the area around the church, urging city officials to block Cafua's plans.

Jalbert said he had not seen the petition as of Thursday, and was not certain if Cafua officials would be invited to the workshop.

Cafua has not filed any permit applications with the city regarding the church, city Planning Director Tex Haueser said Thursday.

Frost said the petition drive came after a Cafua representative met with neighbors Nov. 21.

"It was pretty clear, very explicit," he said about company's plans to raze the church, which is about 75 years old. "There was no other alternative coming from them, I understand that.”

Frost and Thirlmere Avenue resident Beth McKeen said development plans worry them because of potential congestion on neighborhood streets and the conversion of the church property to a busier retail operation.

Frost said a restaurant operating seven days a week and open throughout the day and evening is a concern, especially because one sketch he saw proposed an exit to allow customers to reach Westbrook Street via Thirlmere Avenue and Keswick Road.

Before it was closed in early September, the church held Saturday afternoon masses and the South Portland Food Cupboard operated in the church basement, assisting clients each Thursday morning.

The South Portland Food Cupboard began operating this week at 130 Thadeus St.

Monsignor Michael Henchal, who oversees the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth-Scarborough parish cluster that formerly included St. John the Evangelist, has confirmed there is an agreement to sell the church, but has declined to identify the potential buyer.

Cafua Management operates Dunkin' Donuts franchises through New England. In October, a company request to rezone a residential property was rejected by the Augusta City Council. The move effectively ended plans to build a Dunkin' Donuts at Stone and Davenport streets on what had been a gas station and garage, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Last month, the company filed an application to raze a historic home in Laconia, N.H., according to the Laconia Daily Sun.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.