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Former Christian School Proposed To Return to Residential Use

A proposal to turn the building located at 62 High Street, former site of Sanford Christian Academy, into 9 rental apartments was reviewed last week by the Site Plan Review Committee and the Planning Board. Small Blue Penguin, LLC, has an option to purchase the property, which is owned by the Calvary Baptist Church.

Much of the discussion at both meetings revolved around parking and pedestrian safety. The building will be sold with an 11-space parking area on the opposite side of High Street, and the Church will also deed access to five parking spaces at their main location down the street. There is currently a crosswalk at the intersection of High Street and North Avenue, but most tenants would likely cross directly from the parking area to the building, rather than walking up to the crosswalk.

Public Works Director Matt Hill will contact the Maine Department of Transportation for their input, since the state has some jurisdiction over High Street. He also pointed out that the property is in the Urban Zone, and parking in urban areas is often not directly adjacent.

Before the Church purchased the property and renovated it into classrooms, it was an apartment building, and the only parking was on the street. It was questioned whether the few spaces directly in front of the building could be reserved for its tenants. Police Chief Tom Connolly said parking on public streets cannot be reserved, but must be available for public use.

Planning Board member Dianne Connolly asked about lighting for safety in the parking area. There is currently none, but the applicant will look into it.

A couple of members of the public weighed in with comments. Ernest Schmidhauser, who owns a home on North Avenue, was opposed to approval being granted, citing concerns with parking and safety. He recalled when, many years ago, the building was multi-use, with commercial tenants on the first floor, and asked if the Planning Board could deny the application and request the building include multiple uses. Beth DellaValle, Sanford’s Planning Director, said she had great sympathy with Mr. Schmidhauser’s concerns, but the Planning Board has to follow the zoning ordinances, and cannot use the permitting process to promote their own wishes for how properties should be developed.

Neighborhood resident Michelle Manning expressed concern that the property might be used for a shelter or other type of program, stating that she wanted to see the area continue to improve. She was assured that the apartments in the building will be market-rate rentals.

The property is within the Downtown Design District, so the Planning Board can take no action on the application until it goes before the Design Review Committee. The Board tabled the application and will take it up again at their next meeting. The Design Review Committee meets on Wednesday, December 9.

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