So. Portland measures set to boost business, housing

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city moved forward with first readings on two zoning changes on Monday that could affect the city’s housing stock and bring new businesses to the city.  The measures both require second readings for final approval.

Meeting House Hill

Gail Bruzgo, the owner of 372 Cottage Road, along with four abutters, requested a zone change that would allow Bruzgo, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, to relocate her business, Omi’s Coffee Shop, from 28 Brackett St. in Portland. 

The Council also proposed an amendment to the ordinance that would prohibit drive-thrus from opening in the new zoning district and recommended a decrease in building height from 45 feet to 35 feet, moves the Planning Board had also recommended. 

Following a July 24 workshop, Council voted 5-2 Monday at first reading to approve zoning changes in the Meeting House neighborhood area that would allow Transitional Residential District and Limited Business zones to change to Meetinghouse Hill Community Commercial District. The new district would affect 352, 362, 366, 372, 374, 376 and 378 Cottage Road.  

Mayor Patti Smith and Councilor Sue Henderson voted against the zoning change, citing safety concerns along Cottage Avenue. The planning board had also proposed forming a Cottage Road Safety Committee and although the council discussed the proposal, it took no action.  

“This road is a major feeder highway for people to downtown Portland and it’s always been very fast, busy traffic,” Henderson said. “The traffic is literally vicious.”

Smith said it was a pretty big zone change for a corridor and reminded the council that there was a pedestrian fatality on the road years ago, as well as a bicyclist who was also hit by a car. 

She said that between 800,000 and 1 million people travel to Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, typically during the summer, and most use Cottage Road.

“Do we want to push this zone change through without doing the proper due diligence?” Smith said.

Councilor Claude Morgan said he appreciated the “shocking” number of people who travel down Cottage Road, but that council should do something positive with the business corridor.

“I think we are doing something extraordinarily positive here,” Morgan said.

West End

The council unanimously approved a text and zone map change for the West End to pave the way to make changes in line with the West End Master Plan, which council adopted on Aug. 21. Zoning changes are needed to implement the plan.

The plan encompasses Brick Hill and Redbank neighborhoods and parts of Westbrook Street and Western Avenue and includes an earlier public-private proposal to build affordable housing.

Avesta Housing and Quang Nguyen, owner of Le Variety, want to create a mixed-use building that could include apartments for 130-140 residents.

In June, the city approved using $86,000 from its Revolving Loan Fund Program for Nguyen to purchase a vacant quarter-acre lot at 600 Westbrook St., next to his store at 586 Westbrook St.

The development calls for a multi-story building with housing on the upper floors and retail on the first floor facing Westbrook Street.

Le Variety would occupy part of the first floor. Discussions for the remaining space include making it a permanent home for the Neighborhood Resource Hub and the possibility of a business incubator, which would fulfill the West End Master Plan goal for a neighborhood center.

The plan calls for making the West End a safer and easier place to walk, bike and drive by improving roads, building sidewalks and crosswalks and improving access for bicyclists. Improving regional access for residents would allow easier access to schools, employment, and services using all forms of transportation.

Creating a neighborhood center calls for redeveloping “the triangle” – a strip of land on Westbrook Street between Brickhill and Redbank – into a more vibrant neighborhood center with community gathering spaces and streetscape improvements.

Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser told the council the text and map amendments came about as a result of the West End Master Plan and are needed in order to move forward with the changes, especially the Avesta Housing project.

Haeuser said that it cuts the number of zoning districts in half, creates a neighborhood core and provides a multi-family housing zone. 

Councilor Brad Fox said he was really pleased with how the plan turned out and urged his fellow councilors to vote for it. 

Morgan called it “something to celebrate.” 

Smith said it is an “excellent model of good planning” and “a lot of good forward thinking.”

“This is how zoning and rezoning should be done,” Smith said.

 Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

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