Scarborough adopts 'character-based' zoning at Higgins Beach

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SCARBOROUGH — Town Councilors on Wedsnesday adopted new Higgins Beach zoning and building standards that will increase construction flexibility.

Previously, homeowners wishing to build a new home or remodel would have to seek a variance through the Board of Appeals. 

The new character-based zoning districts and building codes eliminate that process to “enable additions, renovations and new construction,” Town Planner Dan Bacon told councilors Wednesday. 

The neighborhood includes the area east of Spurwink Road, bordered by Piper Road and the Spurwink River. Most of the approximate 350 properties sit on streets off Ocean and Greenwood avenues. Many buildings date to the early and mid 20th century, and most of the zoning hasn’t been updated in nearly 50 years.

The zoning code repair initiative began about a year ago. After several workshops, surveys and a charette, Higgins Beach homeowners, with help from Bacon and architects from the Portland-based Principle Group, helped to craft the new code. It is intended to both protect the aesthetic quality of the seaside neighborhood, while also increasing lot sizes. 

“Right now, the zoning is out of step with Higgins Beach,” Bacon told councilors at the Nov. 18 meeting. Changes under the new zoning codes will “bring the zoning in line with the lot sizes, (which) don’t allow much in the way of additions or new construction,” he said. 

Another impetus for establishing an updated code was encouraging homeowners to stick with the historic aesthetic style of seaside bungalows and shingled cottages. Adhering to this aesthetic, however, is not required. The code is “not intended to be about specific style or mandating repetitive architecture,” Bacon said. 

More specifically, should homeowners want to stay with a traditional style of architecture, the new code will function as a guidebook for what features would be permitted, such as a bay window, a roof walk, or an extended porch. 

New districts, to accommodate both businesses and residents, include a new Coastal Residential District 1, which restricts the neighborhood to single-family residences. The second, Coastal Mixed-Use Character District, aims to support “appropriate small-scale commercial uses” that keep with the character of the neighborhood, both in size and aesthetics. Building types in this district include bungalows, cottages, inns and neighborhood stores.

Councilors approved the zoning change unanimously without discussion. 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

The Scarborough Town Council on Wednesday approved new character-based zoning for the Higgins Beach neighborhood, which will allow homeowners more flexibility when remodeling and building, while also encouraging the historic aesthetic of the neighborhood. 

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.