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Cumberland Planning Board deadlocks on Main Street zoning change

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Cumberland Planning Board deadlocks on Main Street zoning change

CUMBERLAND — The Planning Board voted 3-3 Dec. 14 on whether to recommend a zoning change that would allow businesses along part of Main Street.

The board then voted unanimously to report to the Town Council that it was unable to reach consensus.

The council must ultimately decide whether to implement the Town Center District.

The Planning Board had voted after a public hearing in August to table discussion on the creation of the new zone for the section of Main Street between Tuttle Road and Moss Side Cemetery. Commercial or retail uses are not allowed in that area, and the proposal calls for a zoning change from Medium Density Residential to the Town Center District.

Board members Chris Neagle, April Caron and John Ferland voted in favor Dec. 14 of sending a positive recommendation to the council, while Bill Richards, Bill Ward and Bob Couillard were opposed.

Board member Bob Vail abstained from voting, saying he believed he had a conflict of interest since he has several friends who "stand to lose by our deliberations or the council's final action."

The rezoning proposal is contained in the Cumberland Town Center Advisory Committee’s final report to the council, the result of nearly a year’s worth of work.

It calls for a new district that would permit homes, personal services, business and professional offices, retail stores of no more than 2,000 square feet, cafes, small markets, health-and-fitness studios and residential-care facilities.

The Planning Board, since tabling the matter, has held workshops with the committee and on its own.

Richards said he struggled with the idea of establishing a "town center" on that part of Main Street when plans for a major mixed-use development at the town-owned Doane Property, located in the center of town, are also in the works.

"There seems to me to be some conflict there," he said. "I'm having trouble resolving what potentially would be a new center as opposed to maybe the historical center (on Main Street)."

"It's absolutely clear to me that everyone, or virtually everyone, who owns one of these lots is going to be unhappy about it," Neagle said, adding that he would not be "overly swayed by that, because I feel that ... this area of town historically has been a commercial area."

He said the town may have over-reacted to a development boom in the 1980s and consequently zoned the area exclusively residential, "and as we sit here in tough times we see how, in my opinion, our town doesn't offer the kind of things that it could offer very easily, forcing me to go to other towns for my basic services."

Planning Director Carla Nixon has said the committee tried not to adversely impact the people who live in the area, but she also said the comprehensive planning process showed that many residents desire a town center on Main Street.

Neagle called those survey results "one of the most compelling pieces of evidence that I've seen in this process. An overwhelming majority of people in this town want something like this downtown, or what could be downtown."

But 27-year Main Street resident Tom Powers, a former Planning Board member, suggested that surveys are often questions asked in the abstract, whereas decisions like whether to implement the zoning change are concrete and specific.

To get something, something has to be sacrificed, he said.

"I really need to know why it is so compelling to give up a viable residential neighborhood," Powers said. "What's wrong with what we have right now?"

He said the zoning change would change Main Street's character and ambiance "rather dramatically and permanently."

Once something is gone, Powers said, "it's gone forever. And you do not know today, nor will you know for the immediate future, what's going to replace what you're giving up."

Powers suggested that instead of creating a new zone, the definition of medium density residential could be changed "to encompass a larger or a more compact development, which is one of the objectives ... of this zoning change."

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.