South Portland council gives initial OK to rezoning needed by armory project

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday unanimously approved a first reading of a proposal to rezone the World War II-era former Maine Army National Guard Armory property.

Rezoning the land from Residential A to a new Conditional Armory Zone is required for the planned $2.5 million conversion of the armory into a multi-functional gas station, convenience store and office space by the Topsham-based Priority Real Estate Group.

The Planning Board unanimously approved the proposal March 10. 

Last November, the city approved the sale to Priority for $700,000. The deal included a requirement that the real estate group seek city approval  for the rezoning and the general project proposal before the purchase is finalized. 

The permitted uses of the 2.74-acre parcel would include business and professional offices, automotive filling stations, restaurant services and the possibility of a retail store, child, adult or combined care centers, and charitable organizations, City Manager Jim Gailey said at the April 6 meeting.

Hours for all operations, including gas pumps, would be limited to 5 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, and drive-throughs would not be permitted. 

The nearly 75-year-old armory at 682 Broadway was purchased by the city in April 2006 for $650,000 from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. 

David LaTulippe, vice president of Priority, told the board of various green initiatives his company is interested in, including alternative energy.

“We are in deep discussions on getting a high-speed electric (vehicle) charging station. We’ll probably do the double high speed and do another one for the lower speed,” LaTulippe said. Those stations would be on the perimeter of the property, he said: “We want them visible, but not right at the front door where you have the highest turnover.”

“Solar is something we’re (also) evaluating,” LaTulippe said. 

He said the building would not be up to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards in the sense that “we won’t go to the effort of getting LEED-certified, but we’ll have a lot of LEED initiatives incorporated into it.”

Councilors had only positive remarks to make about the proposal. 

“This is a major transformation in the middle of our community and I think it’s a very positive one,” Councilor Tom Blake said. “I’m very excited about this project. … It helps us get a monkey off our back. The armory has been that way for seven or eight years.”

The only criticism was about increased traffic at the intersection of Broadway, Waterman Drive and the Casco Bay Bridge, which is already notorious for congestion. 

“I think it’s an amazing project. Like anyone else who really has concerns, it’s about the traffic flow,” Councilor Maxine Beecher said. 

Councilor Patti Smith, who lives on one of the nearby streets used by drivers to bypass the intersection, said she “would be in favor of looking at stop signs as a way to potentially slow traffic down, or to maybe have people choose not to use a cut-through street.” 

As the meeting drew to a close, Councilor Claude Morgan said he is “a believer that you can reuse and preserve at the same time, and even teach a different lesson.”

Echoing his point, Mayor Linda Cohen added, “How sad it would be to have torn the building down.”

Preserving such a historical building for an alternative use can serve as a lesson, Cohen said, “and that opportunity would’ve been lost if we hadn’t kept the building.”

The council will hold a second and final reading of the proposal May 4. 

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

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.