Planner: Cumberland making the most of its town center

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CUMBERLAND — The town center’s character has changed with the times and with resident’s whims, Town Planner Carla Nixon explained in a presentation Nov. 1 at Prince Memorial Library.

“If you go back to the beginning of our community, in the colonial days, the town center functioned as a town center,” Nixon said on Monday.

Part of North Yarmouth until 1821, Cumberland’s colonial town center had a variety of uses, such as a tavern, general store, brickyard and kiln, a piggery, blacksmith and shipbuilding, Nixon said.

But zoning changed things in 1949, with the center restricted to residential and agricultural uses, with home occupations allowed for lawyers, physicians, dentists, surgeons, engineers, architects, artists or musicians. Some other uses were grandfathered.

The area was zoned in 1986 for just single-family dwellings and home occupations, Nixon said. While zoning is meant to segregate uses thought to be incompatible in an area of town, she said, “it’s not very flexible; it’s black and white.”

The tax base is now 96 percent residential, and the town has been perceived historically as anti-development, according to Nixon. While many residents enjoyed the town’s residential feel, tax pressures forced a look at ways to diversify the tax base. The key, she said, has been to maintain livability while growing its commercial sector.

The closing of Chase’s Flower Shop on Main Street got community members talking about whether it was time for a change. Because the shop was a nonconforming use, it had to reopen as a similar type of nonconforming use or would not be allowed to be a business, like a coffee shop, Nixon said. The building fell into disrepair.

Through contract zoning, though – allowing a nonconforming use on a case-by-case basis, with a required benefit to the town – the land became the site of Atlantic Regional Federal Credit Union, although not without controversy.

Meanwhile, due to zoning restrictions, the Food Stop on Main Street and other grandfathered businesses were not allowed to expand. Planning committees recently sought to expand the types of uses allowed in order to create a more livable town center, as opposed to a bedroom community, but without changing the area’s character.

An updated Comprehensive Plan called for rezoning part of the town center to permit mixed uses like markets, professional offices, small restaurants and hardware stores, thereby creating a local hub for jobs, encouraging walking and reducing vehicle usage.

The Village Mixed Use zone, adopted in February 2009, was one result, and it has facilitated a mixed-use development on the town-owned Doane Property in the center of Cumberland. Construction of single-family and duplex homes is underway there, as well as redevelopment of the recently-closed Drowne Road School for senior housing.

The Town Center District, covering an area from the School Administrative District 51 superintendent’s office on Tuttle Road to Moss Side Cemetery on Main Street, was established in April 2011. The rezoning has allowed for businesses where they previously were not permitted, such as Doc’s Cafe, a mixed use development which recently opened at the corner of Main Street and Tuttle Road and has an upstairs office area and adjoining apartment building.

“Which was just what we wanted, (was) to have that diversity,” Nixon said.

The Town Center District allows residential uses like single-family homes and duplexes, personal services such as nail salons, business and professional offices, retail stores no larger than 2,000 square feet, small markets and cafes no larger than 2,500 square feet, residential care facilities, health and fitness studios, day-care centers and nursery schools.

A mixed use development, located in the 2009 Village Mixed Use Zone, is underway in the center of Cumberland. Construction of single-family and duplex homes is part of the planned three-phase project, as well as redevelopment of the recently-closed Drowne Road School for senior housing.

Contact Nixon at 829-2206 for more information.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.