Portland City Council mulls request to rezone Camelot Farm

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PORTLAND — A three-hour City Council workshop on Monday hashed out details of two redevelopment efforts.

Councilors tabled discussion of two more items on their agenda.

The bulk of the discussion centered on the zoning change requested to develop 56 acres at the former Camelot Farm, 1700-1714 Westbrook St. in Stroudwater.

The council also got an overview of progress in redesigning Congress Square.

Discussion of a proposed zoning change on West Commercial Street that could lead to the construction of a cold storage warehouse at the International Marine Terminal, and zoning amendments to promote workforce and low-income housing, was set aside.

A new workshop date for those items has not been set.

Councilors are set to vote on the zoning change requested by Camelot Holdings on July 24. Based primarily on 45 acres known as Camelot Farm, the shift from R-1 to a hybrid R-3 and open space zone would allow 95 single-family homes and some multi-family units to be built on the farmland and an adjacent property bordering the Maine Turnpike.

City Planning Director Tuck O’Brien detailed the zoning changes, which he said the city planning staff viewed as the most ideal way to promote new housing and land preservation in what is the largest open space that can be developed.

Developer Mike Barton and engineer Will Savage answered some questions, but no public comment was heard. A public hearing will be held before the council vote. Neighbors have opposed the rezoning and used it as a springboard to launch a petition drive for a referendum question that could block requested zoning changes.

In the nearly 2 1/2 hours councilors spent on the zoning change, the primary questions were about how the land would be transformed, either in its present zoning or with the changes sought by developers.

The R-1 zone would allow for as many as 84 lots of at least 15,000 square feet, O’Brien said, which could extend all the way to the Stroudwater River, even if building near the river is not allowed.

“We feel very comfortable you would get upwards of 78 (lots),” O’Brien said of development under present zoning.

By contrast, the developers, whom O’Brien said have a site plan almost ready for review pending council approval of the zoning change, would create house lots of at least 6,500 square feet while setting aside more than 24 acres near the river as open space for the public.

Savage said development under any zoning would also require building a pumping station to reach mains near Westbrook Street, calling it an “an 8-by-10-foot box, screened from the rest of the development.”

Councilor Brian Batson, who represents the neighborhood, said he is still concerned about traffic impacts on Westbrook Street, and was skeptical an extension of a Metro bus line through the area would be widely used by new residents.

Mayor Ethan Strimling was unconvinced the proposed housing that could be priced at $300,000, met the affordable housing needs for the city, and why developers put in so much effort for such a small gain in house lots.

Barton said the combination of smaller lots and open space were key to creating both needed housing and neighborhood identity, while Savage added the smaller lots required less impervious road surfaces and reduced linear footage to link utilities to the development.

Congress Square

Councilors were generally receptive to an overview of Congress Square redevelopment presented by city urban Planner Caitlin Cameron, with lingering questions about the effects on Congress Street traffic flow and public safety in the redesigned area.

Plans have been moving forward with Philadelphia-based design team Wallace Roberts & Todd since last fall, Cameron said.

“We are sort of in mid-process with the schematic design for public art,” she said, adding concepts by sculptor Sara Sze will be discussed at the July 19 Public Art Committee meeting at the Portland Public Library.

Overall, there is not a hard budget for plans to narrow the intersections of High, Congress and Free streets, add new plantings outside the Portland Museum of Art and the area leading to the Portland Westin Harborview Hotel.

Cameron said the entire scope and cost can be created now that councilors are amenable to moving forward with the concepts presented.

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

Zoning changes proposed on Westbrook Street land in Portland, including Camelot Farm, were discussed for almost 2 1/’2 hours July 10 at a City Council workshop. The council will vote July 24, following a public hearing.

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.