South Portland ponders future of Knightville neighborhood

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee public forum discussed possible zoning updates and what Knightville residents want the future of their neighborhood to be.

A common refrain on July 26 was that residents support growth, but also want to protect the tranquility of the neighborhood. 

The project is intended to update the neighborhood’s land-use policies and recommendations for growth. It will also examine current challenges, such as parking, and coming challenges, specifically rising sea level. 

In the abstract, Planning Director Tex Haeuser said, change can be uncomfortable. But the purpose of the forum, committee meetings and future recommendations is to make growth in the neighborhood consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. 

“We’re all used to the same tired and old buildings, but that’s a low standard,” Haeuser said, adding the committee is not seeking a lot of significant changes. The village downtown area has more potential than is realized now, he said. 

The committee sought public input on issues such as business attraction, design standards and historic preservation, and recently compiled data from a month-long survey that generated 240 responses from residents, business owners and potential investors.

Half of the respondents said they visited Knightville regularly, one-third live in the neighborhood, and one-third are looking to invest in the community or to start a business.  

The survey found respondents like Knightville because of its proximity to Portland, its community atmosphere, access to stores and shops and because it is a safe environment. 

Concerns centered on traffic on parking, and areas of interest include increased water access and small business growth, including more bakeries, coffee shops and office spaces. 

Suggestions included clearly lining parking spaces so people do not park too close to driveways, making it difficult for residents to safely leave their properties. 

Business owners said Knightville is affordable, is in a prime location to draw customers from other cities, such as Portland, but they said limited foot traffic is a challenge. 

Provisional zoning suggestions included reducing the village residential zoning lot size requirement from 7,500 to 2,500 square feet.

“The 1855 houses are all but disappearing. There has to be a reference to the past in the village,” neighborhood resident Caroline Henrdy said about the design standards.

Hendry said she is concerned many of the original neighborhood homes have been compromised by rebuilding so they no longer retain their original character. 

The committee will be working with the Art and Historic Preservation Committee to develop design standards.  

Similarly, Councilor Sue Henderson, who lives on B Street, said she was concerned a lot size change may result in older homes being torn down and the subsequent construction of two structures on one lot.

Planners said it will not be possible to build two separate units on one lot with the change. 

Haeuser said the community must trust zoning will protect neighborhoods and allow best-use development. 

He also said the process differs from others in the city because no outside consultants have been hired – all the input comes from residents and people with personal interest in the neighborhood, which makes it more interesting, he added.  

Topics of discussion at previous meetings included reducing controversy accompanying new development, attracting businesses that would benefit Knightville residents, slowing gentrification and creating workforce housing.

Another area of focus included improving facilities and services for walking, bicycling, transit, and other alternative modes of transportation. 

Henderson said in May that the neighborhood’s comprehensive plan, which was adopted in 2005 and focused on creating a mixed-use neighborhood, needs some tweaking, but she is committed to protecting it and the village character. 

The committee will next meet Aug. 16. A second survey will be released at a future date to build on responses to the first poll. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.

A South Portland committee is gathering input on what residents and visitors would like the future of the Knightville neighborhood to look like. 

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