Portland Road planning begins

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

It’s the little things that matter when it comes to creating an attractive gateway to Bridgton, Alan Manoian, Economic and Community Development director, said Saturday.

Addressing a group of around 43 people attending the first session on Portland Road development standards, Manoian pointed to the screen, showing an abandoned shopping cart, left beside a commercial business.

“It’s the little things like that, that make a difference” in the way Bridgton views its economic vitality, he said.

Manoian showed slide after slide, depicting neglected or non-existent landscaping. “The overall appearance, it gives it a look of almost impermanence or transience, like we’re just moving through. It’s simply not reflecting the actual authentic character of who we are.”

He also pointed out the corridor’s excessive amount of curb cuts and large asphalt expanses, unbroken by landscaping. These are examples of bad design, “massive asphalt bleeding one property into the next,” he said, which will need to be addressed in whatever amendments the new comprehensive plan will be writing over the next several months.

The amendments would not affect existing businesses on the corridor, which are grandfathered, he said. But if new development comes in that must meet a higher standard for landscaping, it might well encourage existing businesses to invest in exterior upgrades, he said.

“The overall theme is barrenness,” said Manoian. He told “The tale of two Dunkin’s” by showing pictures of the Portland Road Dunkin’ Donuts as compared to another Dunkin’ Donuts built by the same developer, Brian Fram, in Albany, N.H. that appears much more attractive, with high quality fencing, 2-to-3-inch caliper landscape trees, a proper internal circulation plan, parking lot landscape islands and an externally illuminated sign.

Since both restaurants were built by the same developer, the barren look of the Bridgton Dunkin’ Donuts can’t be blamed on the developer, he said; it’s a result of standards that are too general and a planning board that hasn’t made landscaping a priority.

“It’s not the developer’s fault; it’s us. It’s what we think we’re worthy of,” Manoian said.

Manoian also showed off the row of residential homes near Stevens Brook Elementary School, and noted that many of them are historic homes that can be considered assets to the corridor, whether they’re used for residential or commercial purposes.

“We don’t think of Portland Road as being a residential street, but it is,” he said. One of the homes was built by Aaron Littlefield, who built the Pondicherry Textile Mill.

He showed the vacant lot beside the Morning Glory Diner, which he said has been bought by a man who owns franchises with Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken. “Don’t worry, he’s not going to build (a Taco Bell or KFC) there,” Manoian said. “He’s leaning toward professional office or retail.”

Sorry sidewalks

Currently, the sidewalks that extend from the downtown area on to Portland Road only go as far as Mt. Henry Road, near the Greater Bridgton/Lake Region Chamber of Commerce. Yet many downtown residents walk to shop at Hannaford supermarket, “more than you realize,” and as a result must walk in the highway, he said.

The sidewalks that do exist are so uneven and in such disrepair that pedestrians won’t use them, and tell him they feel safer walking in the road, Manoian said. When they get closer to Hannaford, they cut through the Chamber’s parking lot and walk over wood pallets to get to the supermarket.

“The public safety and welfare of our citizens, that’s why we do planning,” he said. Manoian said to his knowledge, Bridgton is the only town where Hannaford has come that hasn’t required sidewalks. “They underestimated the market potential” for the store, he said. Across the street, at Hancock Lumber, there should have been curbing required, he said. Granite curbing is better than asphalt, too, he added.

“It’s not about the architecture, it’s about the connective tissue,” he said.

Part of the Portland Road corridor planning will involve a $10,000 sidewalk study being done by the Greater Portland Council of Governments. Stephanie Carver of GPCOG gave a brief presentation. She is in the midst of surveying existing sidewalks in town in order to create an inventory and map, and said she will make the information available to the Greenprint project as an overlay on their online mapping tool.

The report should be done by the end of June, and funding can then be requested from the Maine Department of Transportation. If everything goes right, new sidewalk construction in town could start in two years, she said.

Cheryl Turpin, principal of Stevens Brook Elementary School, was on hand at the meeting, and said her school is planning a “Walk to School” event on Tuesday, May 17, to highlight the need for safe routes for school children to get to the downtown school.

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