South Portland council sets stage for changes in West End, Meetinghouse Hill

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council approved zoning changes Monday that pave the way for new housing and businesses in the West End, and a new coffee shop on Cottage Road in Meetinghouse Hill. 

Councilors also approved the first reading of two marijuana ordinances that would spell out city zoning and licensing rules.

With little discussion, the council approved amendments in the West End that combine eight zones into four, three of which will be new. The new zoning will attempt to create a neighborhood core, and allow a proposed multi-use building with 130-140 apartments.

Councilor Brad Fox, who lives in the West End, has been instrumental in the planning process. Prior to the unanimous vote, he said “You’ve read about it,  you’ve heard about it. We’re all excited about it.  Let’s do it.”

The new changes were sparked by the creation of the West End Master Plan, which the council adopted Aug. 21, and are necessary to implement the plan that encompasses the Brick Hill and Redbank neighborhoods, and parts of Westbrook Street and Western Avenue.

To create the neighborhood core, a strip of land on Westbrook Street between Brick Hill and Redbank, referred to as “the triangle,” will be developed into a neighborhood center with streetscape improvements and a proposed multi-story building with housing on the upper floors and retail on the first floor.

The new zoning limits buildings to a maximum height of 70 feet. There is no residential density limit in this new West End Neighborhood zoning district. 

Quang Nguyen, owner of Le Variety convenience store, at 586 Westbrook St., will move his store to part of the first floor.
 
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 existing store.
 
Avesta Housing and Nguyen are teaming up to build the proposed mixed-use building, but the project depends on Avesta obtaining grant funding from Maine State Housing.
 
For Avesta Housing to be successful with its grant application, new zoning recommendations in the Master Plan must be in place by mid-fall, Tex Haeuser, city planning and development director, said in a letter to City Manager Scott Morelli.
 
Discussions for the remaining space in the proposed building include making it a permanent home for the Neighborhood Resource Hub and the possibility of a business incubator.

Councilor Maxine Beecher said the “time has come” and the “city is finally paying attention to a part of the city that has been lost.”

Mayor Patti Smith called the proposed West End changes the “next horizon (for the city) in many ways.”

Meetinghouse Hill

Councilors also unanimously passed new zoning that creates the Meetinghouse Hill Community Commercial District, changed from Transitional Residential District and Limited Business zones. The new district affects seven Cottage Road properties between Vincent and Pillsbury streets, all on the north side of the road.

The new zoning will allow Gail Bruzgo to more her business, Omi’s Coffee Shop, from 28 Brackett St. in Portland to 372 Cottage Road.

In a purpose statement from the ordinance, the aim is “to provide a higher density, mixed residential and commercial hub within the Meetinghouse Hill neighborhood.” 

The ordinance, which had a first reading Sept. 18, includes responses to traffic and safety concerns previously raised by residents and councilors.

The council approved an order to task the Bike/Pedestrian Committee with monitoring traffic in the new district, with a report due back to the council no later than March, 30, 2018.

Smith, who didn’t support the zoning change at the first reading, expressed confidence in the committee’s assignment.

Marijuana

The first of two ordinances designed to regulate marijuana in the city addresses zoning and prohibits social clubs for the time being, but does not address the home occupation of marijuana cultivation. 

The second ordinance, which deals with the licensing of retail marijuana establishments, also temporarily prohibits social clubs, and also requires product manufacturing facilities to obtain a license. 

The council and city staff have spent several months putting together ordinance language, but will likely have to make changes, depending on regulations enacted by the state.

In other business, the council adopted a Complete Streets Policy, which requires the city to follow guidelines that make streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, including standards for bike paths and reduced lane widths designed to slow vehicle traffic.

Although the policy doesn’t spell out specific guidelines, it affirms the city’s intention to use best practices when undertaking street and utility maintenance and construction.

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

The South Portland City Council unanimously approved zoning that will allow Omi’s Coffee Shop to move to 372 Cottage Road from Brackett Street in Portland.

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