Ground-floor commercial rules refined

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

THAT’S A LOT OF DOTS — The parcels shaded in yellow on this downtown Bridgton map�� � � � � � ,,,,,,,prepared by Comprehensive Plan Committee member Glen “Bear” Zaidman�� �� ,,,,are those that currently contain businesses. The dots indicate parcels of 20,000 square feet or greater in size, which would all be required to maintain a commercial presence on the ground floor under a proposed amendment to the Site Plan Review ordinance that will be discussed at a public hearing before the Bridgton Planning Board on Tuesday, March 20, at 7 p.m. Around a dozen parcels not currently used for business would be impacted by the amendment if their owners made any changes to their structures.

The Bridgton Planning Board continued work Tuesday on an amendment to the Site Plan Review Ordinance that would prohibit new housing-only development in the downtown.

The proposed new language, as recommended by the Comprehensive Plan Committee, now reads as follows: “Any parcel that is 20,000 square feet or greater within the Village Center District (see map) shall be used for retail, professional or mixed use. When the development is mixed use, the ground floor shall be used for retail or professional office space only. This subsection (Section 10.C) is retroactive as of February 20, 2012.”

CPC member Glen “Bear” Zaidman offered a map showing a new Village Center District running from Main Hill down Main Street, including all of Depot Street, continuing along lower Main Street to the intersection of Kansas Road, and extending along Portland Road to Maple St˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇr˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇeet. It is this map, and the above language, that will be subject to a public hearing before the planning board on Tuesday, March 20, at 7 p.m. in the ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇselectmen’s˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇmeeting room.

Selectmen will be meeting the same night, holding their own public hearing downstairs on another major issue — pay-per-bag˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇrecycling˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ— so March 20 should be a busy night at the municipal complex.

At ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇtheir Mar. 6˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇ˝ˇmeeting, the board focused on the “what-ifs,” realizing the amendment could have unforeseen impacts on property owners with lots of 20,000 square feet or larger who currently don’t use their property for business, or who might wish to convert it for residential use in the future.

But most of the 25 or so people in attendance supported the amendment as a means toward preserving the traditional mixed-use nature of downtown, with commercial storefronts on the ground level. The amendment was, in part, in response to plans expected to be submitted to the town in April by Avesta Housing, Inc. to build an affordable housing project — with no ground-floor commercial space — on the former Chapter 11 property near Pondicherry Square.

Of particular concern was the amendment’s impact on home business operations. Some in attendance believed existing rules for home businesses would exempt them, but others weren’t sure. Administrative Assistant to the Planning Board Georgiann Fleck has written to the Maine Municipal Association seeking advice on the legality of the amendment.

“Bear’s done a great job showing us how much land is available for commercial development on Main Street,” said board member Ken Murphy, who lives behind the Hebb on Main Street, where currently the front of the ground floor is used for a business, Running With Scissors. Member Roxa....n...na Hagerman, who also owns ....the.Roxy’s Hairport building within the proposed new overlay district, pointed out, however, that only the front portion of the Hebb house is used commercially; the rear portion is used as an apartment.

Although existing uses of the district’s buildings would be grandfathered, if any changes to those buildings were made, including expansions of over 25%, the new rules would come into play.

Hagerman asked if any of the property owners in the new proposed district would be personally notified that changes were being considered that could impact use of their properties. Board Chairman Steve Collins said that the board was not legally obligated to make such notification.

Planning Board .......member Dee Miller said there was a possibility the amendment could restrict residential uses. “I always like to look at the purpose of ordinances,” she said. “It says it would be commercial or mixed use, but what would be residential? It would preclude” such uses.

Board m......F.............ember Fred Packard, also a member of the CPC, said any ordinance change isn’t going to meet 100% of everyone’s needs, and resident Tom McCarthy pointed out that residential uses are allowed on the upper floors.

But Miller was persistent. “This (amendment) needs to hold up under legal scrutiny,” she said. ........................Planning Board Chairman Steve ..........................-Collins agreed that single-family homes would be prohibited under the proposal on lots of 20,000 square feet or larger. In the map prepared by Zaidman, there are around a dozen lots of that size not currently used for business.

Resident Tim Cook said the spirit of the amendment harkens back to the turn of the century, when “you could get anything you needed in Bridgton, Maine. This is where you came to get it done.”

Miller replied, “I just want to make sure this says what you want it to say.” And Hagerman pointed out there may be an issue for people who go out of business, and just want to live in their buildings.

Packard pointed out that “in reality, there’s not been more than one or two new homes built” in the downtown area for a long time.

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