South Portland plan visualizes Mill Creek makeover

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SOUTH PORTLAND — In an informal public forum Thursday night that included free pizza, the draft Mill Creek Master Plan was presented to about 15 members of the public who were, in turn, encouraged to be candid with their criticism.

The master plan for the area, which extends from E Street to Broadway, has been in the works since 2012.

The drafted proposal is a way to remedy what many agree has become a less than visually pleasing area, populated by strip shopping centers and a hodgepodge of businesses. The plan is designed as much to increase the area’s tax base as it is to improve the aesthetic. 

By making the area more conducive for sustainable and urban development and pedestrian traffic, the master plan is intended to resuscitate the area, similar to the way Knightville underwent a makeover.

Three zoning districts are also being proposed: a Village Extension-Mill Creek district, a Broadway Corridor district and a Mill Creek Neighborhood Core district.

Rather than specific guidelines, the committee that developed the plan presented the public with hypothetical sketches of what potential development could look like in Mill Creek, once the master plan has been implemented.

“What we’re going to show you isn’t what should happen, but what could happen,” said Mark Eyerman, director of Planning Decisions and a member of the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee.  

Even with the proposed zoning alterations, the objective is for the neighborhood to maintain its role as a “community commercial center,” Eyerman said. 

Sketches were shown to illustrate hypothetical development possibilities.

Rezoning in the Village Extension-Mill Creek district was depicted as showing multi-story and “more intensely developed” and multi-use projects, such as residential dwellings on the upper floors of a commercial business.

Uses in the Broadway Corridor district would remain largely “auto-dependent,” but with rezoning that, for example, allows drive-throughs at the rear of buildings.

The Mill Creek Core District would be tailored for residential and commercial uses to create a downtown vibe.

“So the question is, what did the committee get right, what did it get wrong and what can it improve?,” Eyerman asked at the end of his presentation. 

Resident Kathy DiPhilippo suggested the committee use parts of downtown Burlington, Vermont, as an example of what a pedestrian-friendly and auto-friendly area can look like. She suggested considering the idea of limiting one street to just bicycles and pedestrians, like Burlington’s Church Street. 

As far as balancing what the city should develop to attract new residents and businesses versus what development should be left up to to the private sector, Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser said, “I think there is some of this ‘If you build it, they will come.'”

For example, there is “huge demand and quite frankly a shortage of multi-family housing,” Haeuser said. 

Another resident said he thinks the city should be more “aggressive” with its plan, making development “municipally incentivized.”

In reference to increasing foot traffic in Mill Creek, Planning Board member Linda Boudreau implied it might be too good to be true. 

“I know we all love the idea of a pedestrian-friendly and focused (community),” she said, “but I still think most people aren’t like the people in this room.”

Most people hop in their car to run errands or go to the grocery, and it’s hard to change that habit, Boudreau said.

“I fear that if we don’t focus on parking also,” she said, “we could have the same issue we have in Knightville,” where traffic and parking have become problematic as the neighborhood’s popularity has increased.

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.