Red tape in Cape Elizabeth snares proposed lumber business

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CAPE ELIZABETH — There might be a new lumberyard at the town’s northern gateway by early summer.

Mike Friedland, owner of Willard Square Home Repair, hopes to expand his handyman and renovation business by also selling retail lumber on Ocean House Road.

Friedland has agreed to purchase the former Cumberland Farms gas station and convenience store property at 287 Ocean House Road and plans to repurpose the building for a new business, The Lumbery.

The town, however, has said a site plan review must be conducted before Friedland is approved to develop. Friedland said his bank will not close on a loan until he receives approval from the town.

The site review would assess the density of the use and traffic near the property, according to an email Monday from Friedland’s attorney, Paul Bulger of Jewell and Bulger.

“At that corner, the Key Bank has been empty for years, this lot has been empty, the lots across the street are insurance agents or Realtors, so there’s no pulse,” Friedland said in an interview Monday. “There’s no heartbeat, so we’re hoping that our energy, our presence will connect with the community.”

The Lumbery will contain a limited hardware store, a retail lumberyard, space for carpentry classes, and will become the new location for Willard Square Home Repair, which Friedland opened in 2005 in South Portland before moving the business to 535 Shore Road, in the Cape Cottage neighborhood.

“I do home repairs right here and if I need one piece of wood, it’s a half an hour each way to Home Depot, so I’m driving an hour for one piece of wood,” he said. “We’re trying to buy in bulk so that we don’t have to make these trips to Home Depot.”

The Lumbery will sell lumber directly from Maine mills; Friedland said he has made arrangements to sell local cedar, pine, plywood, and pressure-treated wood sourced from four mills in Maine and one lumberyard in Massachusetts.

“I feel like to an extent, I’m part of that whole movement of rethinking traditional models,” Friedland said. “You live in the Pine Tree State, why wouldn’t you buy Maine wood? I hope it’ll attract other like-minded individuals who want to connect with the environment, connect with building, connect with the Maine woods, take classes.”

Friedland plans to restore the original architecture of the former Cumberland Farms, repurposing a few iconic emblems of the previous station, such as the outdoor gas pricing sign. He also plans to install solar panels on the roof.

The site’s most recent owner, Dr. Jin Hwang of Gentle Dental, purchased the property for $275,000 in 2016 with the intent of renovating it for his dental practice. The 1-acre lot is assessed at $439,000, according to Town Assessor Clinton Swett.

Hwang never fulfilled his renovation plans. The building has been vacant since 2014.

When Cumberland Farms sold the building and moved across the street to 298 Ocean House Road, it incorporated deed restrictions prohibiting competitive development at 287 Ocean House Road.

The restrictions prohibit any purchaser from using the property for “food sales and convenience store sales, or retail sales of food,” according to Bulger.

“Those restrictions run with the land,” he said. “They were not unique to the buyer.”

Both Hwang’s dentist practice and Friedland’s prospective lumberyard are approved uses.

However, the town’s zoning ordinance states that any site in the town center must undergo site plan review for a proposed change of use.

The property received site plan approval years ago from the Planning Board for use as a gas station and convenience store, according to a statement by the town’s attorney, John J. Wall III of Monaghan Leahy.

But since it will serve a new use and has had physical changes, such as the removal of the gas pump canopy, another site plan review was triggered, according to Code Enforcement Officer Ben McDougal.

“The ordinance applies regardless of changes of ownership,” McDougal said in a phone interview Tuesday. “The zoning is still the zoning and because exterior changes have occurred, that triggers a Planning Board review.”

Friedland has filed an appeal and is scheduled to appear before the Cape Elizabeth Zoning Board of Appeals on April 23.

“I’m struggling with the rationale,” Bulger said.

The canopy removal was approved by the town and the physical changes Friedland now plans to make are of no significance, Bulger said.

“He’s not making structural changes, he’s not expanding the footprint, he doesn’t have outdoor storage,” the attorney said. “There will be patchwork done to the parking lot, but no other exterior changes and no structural changes to the interior.”

If Friedland’s appeal is denied, the property will be subject to site review, which would delay the purchase. If approved, Friedland said he intends to close on the property and begin renovations immediately.

“We’ve got electricians lined up, our demo crew lined up, plumbers lined up, roofing material ready to go,” he said. “If it closed today we’d be there tomorrow.”

Mike Friedland, owner of Willard Square Home Repair, plans to turn the former Cumberland Farms property on Ocean House Road in Cape Elizabeth into a new business called The Lumbery. (Jenny Ibsen / For The Forecaster)

Mike Friedland inside the former Cumberland Farms in Cape Elizabeth, where he hopes to open a lumber business. “We’re hoping that our energy, our presence will connect with the community,” he said. (Jenny Ibsen / For The Forecaster)

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