Peary Terrace subdivision clears first hurdle in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The Planning Board on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a proposal to turn a baseball field and green space on Peary Terrace into an eight-lot subdivision.

One of those lots would continue to house Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 832, which is also the home of the Maine Military Museum and Learning Center’s new annex at 50 Peary Terrace. The remaining land would become seven single-family homes on quarter-acre lots. 

Although the board unanimously approved the preliminary subdivision application, members expressed concern about  storm-water runoff and a lack of sidewalks. Some said there wasn’t enough detail in the plan. 

“I felt like a lot of this preliminary application was kind of like an unfinished sentence,” board Chairwoman Carol Thorne said. “It didn’t have a period to it.” 

The 4.3-acre subdivision is being proposed by Tanner Street resident Gary Crosby, who plans to live in one of the homes. Crosby recently bought the VFW hall and surrounding land. He donated the VFW building to the Maine Military Museum and Learning Center, which has a small exhibit hall in Mill Creek Park. 

Museum Director Lee Humiston and Stephen Popp, who frames displays and will coordinate special events in the museum’s new annex, both spoke in support of the proposal. Humiston said he could remember babysitting in the neighborhood when it was populated by shipyard workers in the 1940s. 

“There were a lot of houses there at that time,” Humiston said. “It’s a wonderful use for the city.” 

Shawn Frank, engineer from Westbrook-based Sebago Technics, said the development will lead to a reduction of impervious surface, since the large VFW parking lot will be reconfigured and reduced to a 36-vehicle lot.

“I think this is the first time I can say we’re having decreases in post-development storm-water runoff,” Frank said. “We see this as a strong in-fill development proposal.”

Strout Street resident Emilie Sommer said she was concerned about the loss of open space in the neighborhood. Sommer also wondered where the kids would play baseball, but Crosby said the VFW stopped allowing baseball games prior to the sale.

“I see that baseball field going away and it makes me feel sad,” Sommer said. “I loved hearing Little League games in my backyard, and I’m going to miss that.” 

Peary Terrace resident Tom Bakker said he supported the development, but was concerned about increased traffic, especially at the Broadway intersection. 

“When you get to the end of that street, you have a heck of a time getting onto Broadway,” Bakker said. 

Board members, however, focused on the storm-water system associated with the development, which would consist of swails, or shallow grassy ditches, to capture runoff between the homes, which will range from 1,600 square feet to 2,400 square feet.

Frank said the swails are needed because the development cannot tap into the city’s storm-water system, which in that area is combined with the sewer line. The swail system will capture and absorb the first inch or so of rain, which Frank said accounts for 90 percent of rain events, before the water will flow into street drains. 

Thorne questioned the effectiveness of the swails, which must be maintained by homeowners. Though maintenance responsibilities ultimately will be included in the deed, she didn’t think that would be enough. 

“In my experience – in my profession – I have not seen a homeowner who knows what’s in their deed,” the real estate agent said. “You don’t want one or two of those swails to fail.”

The board will consider final project approval at a future meeting.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or