South Portland council: Keep Willard Square commercial

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council has again sent the Planning Department back to work on a proposed zoning amendment that will dictate the rules of development in Willard Square.

Among the changes requested by councilors during a workshop Monday was the removal of a measure in the amendment that would allow residences on the first floor of new developments.

The Village Commercial Willard zone, or VCW, currently allows only commercial uses on the first floor. Planning Director Tex Haeuser said his department’s proposal included repeal of the residential prohibition because of the public comments received while the amendment was being crafted.

“Quite of the few of the 12 properties in the zone are already residential or single-family homes,” Haeuser said in an interview after the workshop. “There had been a lot of sentiment that people, while recognizing the need for a neighborhood commercial center, perhaps didn’t want it to be quite as commercial as it seemed to be headed toward.”

Four of seven city councilors felt otherwise. Councilors Jim Hughes, Maxine Beecher, Tom Coward and Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis all indicated they would support striking the new proposal and leaving the residential prohibition. They were concerned that if residential uses were allowed on the first floor, the whole zone would eventually skew residential.

“Some of us felt that would move us away from what village commercial was intended to be,” De Angelis said after the meeting. “The idea of creating the VCW in 2004 was that it be village-commercial. If it went all the way to being residential, we could have this zoning issue back before us again in a few years. We felt like we needed to keep in the spirit of village/commercial, and one way to ensure that is to require there to be business on the first floor.”

Councilors also asked planners to add the following changes to the amendment:

• A requirement that new nonresidential development include public bicycle racks.

• Removal of a proposed prohibition on exiting backward on to Thompson Street.

• Rewording language around the protection of “trees of community significance,” so that the Planning Board or code enforcement officer may consult with any experts identified by the city arborist.

The zoning changes are meant to address issues raised earlier this year in the wake of a plan to open a European-style eatery at 7 Pillsbury St. The proposal ignited some residents’ concerns about density, traffic, pedestrian safety and design standards.

The proposed amendments were first introduced to the council about three weeks ago and included changes to rules governing parking, building construction materials, setbacks and more.

Councilors last week extended a construction moratorium originally set to expire Sept. 9, in order to give the city more time to work on the amendment.

Councilors are scheduled to have a first reading of the amended ordinance on Sept. 7.  On Sept. 13, the Planning Board will hold a public hearing. If all goes according to plan, the new rules could face a final City Council vote on Sept. 19.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

VCW Zoning amendments, 8/17/11