South Portland parking amendment crucial for proposed tavern, condos

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Residents Monday expressed varying degrees of support and concern about a Knightville redevelopment project and a proposed off-street parking ordinance change it would require.

The discussion in a City Council workshop was prompted by the potential redevelopment of the former Griffin Club. Ginger Cote bought the club, at 60 Ocean St., in June for about $600,000. She has filed plans to tear down the 5,800-square-foot building and construct a new, four-story building in its footprint.

The first floor will house a restaurant and tavern called Big Babe’s; five condominiums will be built above.

According to Planning and Development Department Director Tex Haeuser, 18 parking spaces will be required of the development, including nine on the property at Ocean and C streets. The property has enough spaces to accommodate parking for the residences, but not the tavern.

Businesses, however, can count spaces owned or leased in other nearby private lots, or public spaces. Non-residential buildings are able to count private parking spaces they own or lease within a 1,500-foot radius, but can only count public spaces that are within a 500-foot radius.

Haeuser proposed a zoning amendment that would bring the maximum distance allowed for counting public parking spaces in line with the distance allowed for private parking spaces: 1,500 feet.

In Knightville, the increased allowance would make it possible for Cote’s project to count 30 spaces in a public lot on Waterman Drive, between C and E streets.

Mary-Jane Perry, of Pillsbury Street, said she doubts people will walk from their cars to Big Babe’s if they’re parked as far as a quarter-mile away.

“I don’t know that people will actually go far away; I think they’ll tend to cluster,” Perry said.

Another resident, Melanie Wiker of D Street, said her biggest concern is changing the zoning for one development.

“Going to 1,500 feet is encompassing almost all of Knightville,” Wiker said. “If we do this for this developer, my question is, what will it be for every new development?”

George Corey, of Franklin Terrace, echoed Wiker’s thoughts.

“The Planning Department promised to never bring before the council a proposed change in zoning advocated by a single applicant,” he said. “And that’s exactly what we have here.”

Most councilors, however, spoke in favor of amending the zoning. Councilor Susan Henderson, who lives on E Street, called it a “no-brainer.”

“We are working within the current zoning,” Henderson said. “This is not a major zoning change, it’s a tweak … I think this is good for Knightville.”

Councilor Eben Rose asked whether the amendment could be written to only effect Knightville, rather than the entire city. Haeuser said the change could be tailored for Knightville’s special district, but it would make more sense to apply it city-wide.

The council will discuss the proposed amendment in another workshop, most likely on Dec. 11.

Cote, meanwhile, said she probably won’t proceed with her plan, and will sell the property, if the parking ordinance isn’t amended.

“The property is worth more without the building on it,” she told the Portland Press Herald. “I’m hoping (the city) will work with me, but if not, I’ll sell it and move on.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

A depiction of a four-story building containing Big Babe’s Tavern and residential condos that would replace the former Griffin Club at 60 Ocean St. in South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood.