South Portland council mulls zoning change

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council agreed in its meeting Monday to send the proposal to create a Thornton Heights commercial zone to a workshop for reconsideration on June 9 and first approval on June 16. 

The council also authorized a lease between the Fire Department and Verizon Wireless that may result in better cell-phone service, and scheduled a public hearing to address a reported nuisance at 35 Mildred St.

Following the unexpected rejection of a new zone along Main Street that would have facilitated a Dunkin’ Donuts development at the corner of Westbrook Street, councilors voted 4-1 to consider different options for the zone and the parcel. Mayor Jerry Jalbert and Councilor Tom Blake were absent.

Councilor Michael Pock, who cast a dissenting vote May 19 alongside Councilors Tom Blake and Patti Smith to put the new zone on hold, indicated he would like to slow down the rezoning process and learn more about the impact of putting deeded height restrictions on the land.

The decision May 19 was a victory for members of Congregation Bet Ha’am on Westbrook Street, who fear that the Dunkin’ Donuts would disrupt sunlight streaming into their sanctuary, and have urged the city to preserve the green space. 

On Monday, Smith was the only vote against the mostly procedural measure to revisit the zone.

“I want to have everyone in the room who’s concerned with this particular issue, and a lot of people probably aren’t here this evening,” she said. Nearly 100 residents of Thornton Heights and congregants of Bet Ha’am have regularly attended meetings about the zone. 

The Thornton Heights zone was one of two new ones proposed by the city’s long-term Comprehensive Plan. The changes introduce design standards, address high police activity at Main Street-area motels and simplify traffic patterns.

Originally discussed in conjunction with the THC zone, the Main Street community commercial zone was approved unanimously on May 19, protecting neighbors of the former St. John the Evangelist Church at Main Street and Thirlmere Avenue from demolition

Verizon chimney

The council also authorized a lease between the Fire Department and Verizon Wireless for space at the Central Fire Station, which would house antennas to increase the network’s capacity in the Mill Creek area. 

City Manager Jim Gailey said Verizon’s lease would allow the carrier to install a 20-foot-high “wall-mounted chimney” on top of the fire station that would hide the antennas and equipment. 

Gailey said the deal has been in the works for several months to address a “dead area” in local Verizon coverage.  

The first five years of the lease will bring in over $21,000 annually, with increasing value for each extension. The council authorized the money to go to the city’s fire truck reserve account to help with fleet replacements over the next few years. 

Mildred Street

After residents submitted a petition to the city reporting a public nuisance at 35 Mildred St., councilors set a hearing on the issue to be held during their June 16 meeting.  

Prior to the meeting, Mayor Jerry Jalbert confirmed that the home in question is owned by former State House Rep. Christopher T. Muse, D-South Portland. Muse served in the Legislature from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. 

Jalbert said prior to the meeting that the city code enforcement division evicted Muse a few weeks ago from the multi-tenant building, which Muse owns, because of an ongoing sewage problem he failed to remedy. He indicated that Muse could not afford to fix the problem. 

A telephone number for Muse was disconnected as of Wednesday. 

Under the City Code, if the council receives more than 10 complaints from neighbors within 500 feet of a nuisance site, the city must hold a public hearing and attempt to rectify the situation. 

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.