Portland City Council seeks to block CVS by amending Forest Avenue zoning

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PORTLAND — After Mayor Ethan Strimling outlined challenges facing the city Monday, councilors moved to encourage new housing along a stretch of Forest Avenue now targeted for a new business.

Following Strimling’s 10-minute State of the City speech, the City Council unanimously approved an order asking the Planning Board for a recommendation on changing Forest Avenue zoning between Baxter Boulevard and Preble Street Extension to a designation that would prohibit drive-through service.

That could effectively block a proposal by Rhode Island-based CVS Corp. to build a new store with a drive-through pharmacy on land now home to a row of businesses that include Palmer Spring Co., Forest Gardens tavern and David Munster’s TV.  

Councilors also approved eliminating zoning that had been created a decade ago to foster development in the Morrill’s Corner area off Forest and Allen avenues.

And as expected, they postponed public hearings on the $27.9 million bond to replace Fred P. Hall Elementary School and on creating a historic protection zone on a portion of the Portland Co. land at 58 Fore St..

The bond and historic protection zones will be considered Feb. 17. The council will also discuss Portland Co. zoning at a 5 p.m. workshop on Monday, Feb. 8.

Planning Board members have until April 1 to return a recommendation on the Forest Avenue zoning change, which was proposed by Councilor Belinda Ray. T

The city has been approached by CVS representatives about demolishing the Forest Avenue buildings to build the new store. Ray, Strimling and Councilor Spencer Thibodeau have said they prefer a mixed use that would include housing.

On Monday, Councilor Jill Duson added her opposition.

“I am willing to say on the record that I am concerned about a drugstore,” she said.

Councilors discussed Ray’s request for almost an hour, without taking public comment, while struggling with whether to set a deadline for the Planning Board. They also discussed whether they could ask the board to deliberate on the zoning before any site plan is submitted for the properties.

Ultimately, councilors decided to do both.

The demolition request is now under consideration by the Historic Preservation Board. On Wednesday, Feb. 3, at 7:15 p.m., the board will meet in City Hall for a hearing on whether certain buildings in the Forest Avenue block are eligible for protection as landmarks.

Strimling sees strength

Earlier, in his first State of the City address, Strimling relied on his own visceral sense to determine the condition and challenges in the upcoming year.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t have statistics and graphs for you,” he said. “… From what I have learned and observed in my first two months on the job, I feel comfortable concluding that the state of our city is strong.”

Strimling praised the council’s goal-setting process and said his engagement with residents and business owners helped establish his outlook for the year.

“All of these concerns are very real and have to be addressed, or the crossroads at which our city finds itself – the crossroad of becoming a city of haves and have nots versus a city with a strong middle class – will fall to the side of economic inequality and the middle class will lose,” he said.

Strimling said goals include forward progress on improvements to city elementary schools, development of the Ocean Terminal off Commercial Street, increased use of solar energy, and “programs that can actually move people from poverty to a life of stability through work.”

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

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling delivers his first State of the City address Monday, Feb. 1, at City Hall.

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.