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South Portland zoning changes may dunk church redevelopment as doughnut shop

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South Portland zoning changes may dunk church redevelopment as doughnut shop

SOUTH PORTLAND — Zoning revisions proposed for Thornton Heights could put a crimp in a developer's plans to replace a Main Street church with a Dunkin' Donuts shop.

City Planning Director Tex Haeuser gave Planning Board members an overview of the new zoning Tuesday night, calling it the first product of the new Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee.

The details were provided at a board workshop, and the zoning additions to Chapter 27 of the city code will be presented for a Planning Board opinion and recommendation Feb. 25. The zoning changes would also require a City Council public hearing and two votes.

With infrastructure and road improvements coming to the neighborhood straddling Main Street between Rigby Yards and the Maine Turnpike spur, it is time to rezone the neighborhood to promote better pedestrian accessibility, higher population density and mixed commercial use, Haeuser said.

Plans to amend the current light business designation split the area into a Main Street Community Commercial Zone and Thornton Heights Commercial Zone. The Main Street Commercial Zone would extend east from Aspen to Southwell avenues, and include essentially the frontage along Main Street.

Also included in the proposed zone are all the properties on the site of St. John the Evangelist Church at 611 Main St, including the former church school on Aspen Avenue.

Those properties were purchased by Methuen, Mass.-based Cafua Management for $730,000 last December. The company, which leases property nearby for an aging Dunkin' Donuts, has planned to tear down the 75-year-old church and replace it with a new Dunkin' Donuts.

But a clause in the proposed Main Street zoning prohibits drive-through windows for restaurants. Haeuser on Wednesday said the company could not get a waiver if it presents a site plan to the Planning Board.

The company, which operates about 200 Dunkin' Donuts franchises throughout New England and upstate New York, is also negotiating a lease for 2.3 acres of city land at the corner of Westbrook and Main streets, which falls into the Thornton Heights zone, where drive-through windows are allowed.

The land is adjacent to the restaurant now leased by Cafua from property owners Jean and Tracy Ginn.

Haeuser said there is no guarantee the church would remain standing, but by increasing residential density requirements, it could open the possibility for redeveloping the church as housing.

The Main Street Zone also would require new buildings to be no higher than 50 feet, and would allow offices, restaurants, funeral homes, and restaurants and stores that could not be open from 1-6 a.m. Bicycle racks would also be required at businesses and residential units in both zones.

The Thornton Heights Commercial Zone would extend west almost to Noyes Street and downhill to include a wooded section near Rigby Yards. Included in the zoning are provisions for multi-story parking garages and a railroad station, as Haueser noted the Amtrak Downeaster passes through Rigby Yards.

Special exceptions in the zone would allow for 24-hour businesses, including warehouses and distribution facilities. The maximum building height would be capped at 96 feet.

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