Something's got to give: Zoning, vision clash in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Zoning restrictions may be driving development out of Knightville, including a proposal to redevelop the former Griffin Club.

Joshua J. Reny, assistant city manager and economic development director, said the city believes a deal to redevelop the Griffin Club property at Ocean and C streets fell through after a potential buyer met with city officials to learn what could be built under existing regulations.

The developer’s plans apparently wouldn’t comply with zoning that essentially prohibits high-density residential projects in the neighborhood.

Last week, Tex Haeuser, the city’s planning and development director, said current zoning could allow a building up to 50 feet in height, or probably four stories. Zoning also only allows 24 units per acre.

Developers must also comply with off-street parking requirements. Haeuser said 1.5 spaces per unit would have to be set aside for parking unless the units are small: one space for a one-bedroom residence and 0.75 spaces for studio apartments.

Reny said he has not heard back from the prospective developer of the Griffin Club property, but a reliable source told him the property is no longer under contract.

The property owners, Byron and Audrey Castro of Cape Elizabeth, have not responded to repeated requests for comment about the sale. The Griffin Club building at 60 Ocean St. was listed for sale in February for $599,000.

Scott Parker, owner of the bar – but not the building – was evicted by the Castros and closed the bar Wednesday, May 31. Last week, he said the sale of the property was expected to be finalized this weekend and the building would be torn down.

On Tuesday, listing real estate broker Tom Landry declined to discuss the property, whether a sale is pending, or if the building remains for sale.

Reny, meanwhile, estimated that he has talked to four or five developers about possible projects in Knightville, but the density restrictions have been prohibitive.

Unless zoning in the neighborhood changes, he said, developers can’t acquire property, tear down older buildings and put in enough units to make development economically feasible.

Reny said Knightville will either become a more gentrified village with a limited number of units at higher prices, there will be no new development, or zoning will have to be reconsidered.

“There has been a renaissance of sorts in Knightville and it is a definitely up-and-coming neighborhood,” he said, but there is also conflict about what the future of the neighborhood should be.

“Development is challenging, especially where people live their lives,” Reny said. “There is some contradiction on what people want in order to have a vibrant village. … You need to be able to attract people, but at the same time people are concerned about parking and traffic.”

On May 9, nearly  100 residents showed up to voice their disapproval of a new housing proposal in Knightville, pitched by the South Portland Housing Authority. SPHA officials discussed their desire to tear down the former Martin’s Point Health Care building at 51 Ocean St. and build 48 apartments or condominiums. The project as proposed is five stories, and would require a zoning change.

Reny said the housing authority has not filed any development plans with the city or asked for a zoning change. 

At the meeting, residents expressed their concern about additional traffic in the neighborhoods, lack of parking, and the loss of a neighborhood that feels like a village. There was also concern that the plan for new development isn’t in line with the comprehensive plan for the neighborhood.

According to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, “(Knightville’s Ocean Avenue) should continue to redevelop along a ‘village concept’ embodied in the current Village Commercial District requirements with multi-story, mixed-use buildings located at the sidewalk line and with parking to the side or rear of the buildings.”

The SPHD has also proposed a 2-acre development on Sunset Avenue in Thornton Heights. The proposed development includes two 14-unit buildings with a mixture of two- and three-bedroom units.

It has filed paperwork with the city and, on June 8, the Planning Board will conduct a site walk at the property.

On June 12 at 6:30 p.m. the City Council will hold a workshop on zoning.

Reny said more emphasis needs to be put on zoning and getting it right citywide.

“Zoning shouldn’t be static,” he said. “We need to make sure the zoning matches the vision of the areas.”

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

The Griffin Club building at 60 Ocean St. in South Portland was listed for sale in February for $599,000. The bar is now closed, and there are conflicting reports about whether the building has been sold.