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Zoning Change Proposed for Former Nasson Dorms

The Site Plan Review Committee and Planning Board this week both recommended approval of a proposal to rezone three properties in Springvale from Single Family Residential to Urban. The properties include R5-91 and R5-94, located off Summer St., on which are several buildings that served as dormitories for Nasson College from the time they were built in the 1960s until the College closed in 1983. The properties, which comprise just under 20 acres, were sold to the Lenox School in the ‘90s, but that project never went forward, and the buildings have now been vacant for almost forty years. The remainder of the property is mostly wooded.

The Lenox School would like to sell the property and the most likely buyer is one who would renovate the dormitory buildings as apartments, which are not allowed in the SFR zone, but are allowed in the Urban zone. In his proposal, John Barth of the Lenox School included a detailed analysis demonstrating that the use of the property for multi-family housing is consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan for Springvale Village.

Mr. Barth told the Site Plan Review Committee that a developer from Saco had plans to purchase the property in 2020, but had to withdraw from the deal when their business was adversely affected by the pandemic. That developer had intended to convert the dorms to 70 units of rental housing.

The concern by members of both boards, as well as of Planning Director Beth Della Valle, is that all allowable uses in the Urban zone may not be appropriate for a development that will be surrounded by existing neighborhoods of single family homes. The Urban zone is the least restrictive zone in the City, and allows everything from gas stations to fast food restaurants and large retail operations.

Rezoning the properties as Residential Development is another option, but that zone has density limits that Mr. Barth said some developers feel is too restrictive for a project of this size.

The third property that is being proposed to change to Urban zoning is L15-8, at the intersection of Kirk, Summer and Grove Sts., currently owned by Roger and Debra Caron. In order for the Lenox School properties to be rezoned Urban, they have to be contiguous to other properties that are currently zoned Urban, and this lot would provide the connecting link. (The adjacent block bordered by Kirk St. and Grove St. is in the Urban zone.)

At the Planning Board’s public hearing on the proposal, Ms. Della Valle read into the record comments she received from abutters. King St. resident Andrea Lunser wrote that she strongly feels urban zoning would increase the traffic, disturb the pleasant residential feel and attraction of the neighborhood and interrupt natural wetlands and wildlife. Kirk St. resident Gaylor Njangwe wrote that he was OK with the change. Kirk St. resident Diane Parisien wrote that she has concerns about the increase in the volume of traffic on the narrow street if it became an access road for a large number of residents.

The compromise approved by both the SPRC and Planning Board recommends that the city council rezone the parcels from SFR to urban, to allow for renovation and redevelopment of the existing buildings for multi family and neighborhood accessory uses, with conditions that limit the range of commercial/industrial uses that are allowed on the two larger parcels.

The City Council’s Zoning Subcommittee will review the proposed zoning change at its meeting next week. If they approve, it will go to the full City Council for another public hearing before a final decision is made. It should be noted that even if the zoning change is approved, any proposed development would have to go through the site plan approval process, and would likely require a traffic study as well as approval by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

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