Owner: CVS offer means Portland business can move, not close

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PORTLAND — David Weeks is adamant about the future of Palmer Spring Co.

“We are not closing down, period,” he said Feb. 4 outside the family business at 351-355 Forest Ave.

What Weeks would like to do, however, is move. He and owners of adjacent buildings have offers from developers who want to build a CVS store on the block extending from Baxter Boulevard to Preble Street Extension.

But some neighbors and city officials are less enthusiastic about the development plan, and two separate actions last week by the city could halt CVS.

On Feb. 3, the city Historic Preservation Board unanimously ruled 355, 369 and 371-373 Forest Ave. are eligible for consideration as local landmarks. Two board members can now submit nominations for the designations. 

If city councilors approve such a designation, city Historic Preservation Manager Deb Andrews said demolition of the buildings would be possible only if the city determines refusal would cause economic hardship.

On Feb. 1, councilors unanimously supported a request to the Planning Board for an opinion on rezoning the Forest Avenue block to prohibit drive-through windows, a feature desired by CVS.

The Planning Board has until April 1 to report back to the City Council, but must do so before any site plan can be reviewed.

Neighbors, including patrons of Forest Gardens, a tavern at 371 Forest Ave., oppose allowing CVS to redevelop the block.

“I think there should be some mixed-use there. I don’t know where the traffic from a drive-through window would go,” Hastings Street resident Steve Richard said before the Feb. 3 hearing.

Forest Gardens patrons filled City Council chambers, and called the bar a treasured gathering spot.

“For 80 years, it has been a place that is essential to the neighborhood, the people who live in the neighborhood and the people who just pass by,” Gary Libby said.

Weeks said he has had offers for his buildings (he also owns 369 Forest Ave.) for 30 years, but this time the offer is enough to pay for a needed relocation.

“We are operating in three buildings, it is very inefficient,” he said.

Sandra Guay, an attorney representing CVS and developers TM Crowley, sought permission to demolish the stretch from 351 to 379 Forest Ave. in a letter to the city Planning & Urban Development Department in November 2015.

At the HPB meeting, Guay said the company will “respect the historical integrity of the area” in its building plans.

Andrews said the demolition request led to a review of studies made on the buildings and their place in city history.

A 2011 Maine Department of Transportation study determined there was no historical significance. The Maine Historic Preservation Commission disagreed, noting neighborhood buildings, including those owned by Weeks and Michael Kaplan, are eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. 

All the buildings are almost a century old. Those at 355 and 369 Forest Ave. each were home to auto dealerships in what became the city’s auto row. The 371-373 address owned by Kaplan was constructed as workforce housing, with commercial space on the first floor.

HPB members concluded the buildings have value as “significant example(s)” of the history, culture and architecture of the city. They also concluded the buildings had “sufficient integrity” to make them “worthy of preservation or restoration.”

Guay and attorney Mary Costigan, who represents Weeks, disagree.

“Nothing we have seen that sets these buildings apart,” Costigan said Feb. 3. “I understand there are degrees of landmark, but where do you set the floor?”

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

Jeffrey Read and Steve Richard of Portland await the beginning of the Feb. 3 Historic Preservation Board meeting. Both supported preserving Forest Gardens, a tavern at 371 Forest Ave.

Palmer Spring operates in three buildings on Forest Avenue in Portland. A proposal to demolish the buildings for a CVS store is opposed by some neighbors and city officials.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.