Portland West End neighbors continue objections to Waynflete campus plan

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PORTLAND — The Planning Board Tuesday asked Waynflete School to defend its desire to expand further into the Western Promenade neighborhood.

The board also heard from the city’s corporation counsel about whether a competing overlay proposal from the Western Promenade Neighborhood Association was within its jurisdiction to consider as part of the Waynflete application.

Danielle West-Chuhta, an attorney for the city, said in a memo that while the Planning Board is allowed to review and make recommendations to the City Council regarding the Waynflete proposal, “this section does not, however, entitle the Board to recommend the competing proposal offered by the Western Promenade Association to the City Council since the Association is not the applicant for the proposed zone change.”

The board had allowed the neighborhood association to present its plan during a previous workshop.

West-Chuhta went on to say that the board could make its own recommendations that include parts of the association’s proposal.

The Waynflete School has applied for an overlay zone that would define future growth of its campus. The expansion proposal includes possible future acquisition of five neighboring homes – a total of three buildings – all of which are now occupied. The addresses are 11 Fletcher St., 25 and 27 Storer St. and 10 and 12 Greyhurst Park.

The school is also asking for height leniency for future construction within its “core campus.” Along the edges of the campus and within the buildings it is targeting for future acquisition, the school’s plan includes keeping a percentage of homes residential.

Neighbors unhappy with what many called “institutional creep” pointed to the city’s recent decisions not to allow Mercy Hospital, Maine Medical Center and the University of Southern Maine to take over nearby homes.

“There is a clear pattern of limiting institutional creep,” said Patrick Murphy, a Bowdoin Street resident and former neighborhood association president. He suggested Waynflete find room to expand on its existing campus.

Waynflete’s position is that expanding on its existing campus would result in a large loss of open space and tall buildings that are not in line with the scale of the neighborhood. The school also said that defining its borders now provides assurance of the parameters for future growth.

Orlando Delogu, who said he used to live next to the campus, recommended to the board that it consider including the 40 acres Waynflete owns behind the Westgate Shopping Center for future expansion. That property is currently used for athletic fields, but Delogu said there is room for academic building growth there and on abutting properties Waynflete could acquire.

The Planning Board asked Waynflete to provide additional information regarding its need for more square footage per student on its campus. The kindergarten- through 12th-grade school currently has 185 square feet per pupil, and with it’s planned expansion of 4,500 square feet would have 285 square feet for each of its 550 students. 

The school has assured the board it has no plans to increase enrollment in the future, or to add boarding for students.

Headmaster Mark Segar said the need for more academic space is dictated by the New England Association of Schools, which establishes standards for schools.

Planning Board Chairman David Silk asked the school to provide the board with more data regarding square footage needs before an Oct. 27 public hearing on the proposal. He also asked the school come prepared to defend its proposal to expand in the context of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which discourages institutions from taking over residential property.

The Planning Board will take comment and is tentatively scheduled to forward a recommendation to the City Council at the public hearing at 7 p.m. at City Hall. The council has the final say on creation of overlay zones.

The Historic Preservation Board is also reviewing Waynflete’s proposal, since the school is in a historic zone. That board has scheduled a site walk of the school for Oct. 21 at 4:30 p.m., followed by a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. in room 209 at City Hall. The board will forward its recommendation on the proposal to the Planning Board.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net