Help design future of Portland Road

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

It’s been over a year since McDonald’s Corp. announced plans they were coming to Bridgton. The news caused an uproar, and led to a protracted letter- writing campaign by persons both for and against the plans.

Now, a group of residents are hard at work developing new standards for Portland Road, standards that will somehow allow for change and growth without sacrificing Bridgton’s small-town character.

But before they can go any further, they need the public’s help — and they especially want to hear from seasonal residents.

So, a first-ever Public Design Charette has been scheduled for Saturday, June 25 at Stevens Brook Elementary School, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“If the announcement last year of a McDonald’s coming to Bridgton ignited your interest in Bridgton’s future development track… then you must join us and design the place called Portland Road,” said Alan Manoian, Bridgton’s Director of Economic and Community Development.

Manoian said Saturday’s meeting is “a landmark opportunity for seasonal residents to join us as townspeople to design a better Portland Road corridor.”

Obviously, year-round residents are encouraged to attend, he said, “but I really hope our seasonal residents can see this as an opportunity to connect with the community in this way,” by engaging in a hands-on process of deciding what standards should be placed in different sections of the corridor.

The meeting will begin with a walking tour from 10 to 11 a.m., beginning at Pondicherry Square in front of the Big Kahuna building. Manoian will lead the tour up Portland Road to about Mt. Henry Road, so participants can see for themselves what the existing conditions of the corridor are.

“It’s really important that they have that physical experience” that only a walking tour can bring, he said.

The first charette will be focusing on just that stretch of Portland Road, and not the entire corridor. Future charettes will deal with sections farther south toward Sandy Creek and the Naples town line.

The group will gather at the school at 11:30 a.m. for a visual presentation and brown bag lunch. Manoian has titled his presentation, “Can Portland Road Become a Great New England Street?” The Comprehensive Plan Committee, an 11-member group of residents chosen by selectmen to draft new site plan standards by November, will lead the handson portion of the meeting, which will be from noon to 2 p.m.

“We’ve had about five meetings, and this is a very accelerated process” of creating new development standards, Manoian said. Of the committee, he said, “These folks have really dedicated themselves” to learning as much as possible about the form-based code approach that Manoian is asking them to consider. Many of the members have done extensive research online and walked the corridor on their own.
“They’ve developed such an impressive understanding of the form-based approach,” he said. As a result, at Monday’s meeting, the committee voted unanimously to advocate that the town take a form-based code approach in developing new site plan review standards throughout town, he said.

But while the committee might have a specific streetscape idea in mind, Saturday’s charette is not going to be focused on their work. Instead, year-round and seasonal residents will split up in groups of four at tables in the school’s cafeteria, where large maps of the Portland Road corridor will be laid out. Then they’ll take different colored markers to trace out where they want to see a more traditional downtown streetscape, and where flexibletype street standards should be.

It will be interesting to compare what the residents do, with what the committee has come up with so far, said Manoian. “This is how we start measuring whether we’re really in tune with our residents,” he said. Local artist and illustrator Janet Montgomery will tag along for the walking tour and also be on hand for the streetscape-mapping exercise. What she hears from residents will help inform the vision-based illustrations she is creating of how Portland Road could look in the future, said Manoian.

“This isn’t going to be a teacher- classroom setting,” Manoian stressed. It’s about working together to generate ideas about Portland Road’s future. The cafeteria is accessed through the school’s rear parking lot.

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