After seven years, Belfast Maskers may have finally found a home.

The nonprofit theater group is seeking a change in city zoning to allow it to purchase 17 Court St., a former church located in a mostly residential neighborhood. President of Belfast Maskers Sasha Kutsy said the organization has performed in a variety of locations since 2011, when its waterfront building failed to meet code requirements and was later demolished to make way for development.

“We have been looking for a home and since this is the place where we put on our first show in 1987,” Kutsy said, as she presented her plans to Belfast’s Planning Board earlier this month.

She said there will be few noticeable changes to the building but said the group intends to expand an existing stage to accommodate for the four shows per year put on by the Maskers. In addition, she said, the space could be used for workshops, summer or theater camps, fundraisers, and rented or leased out to other performance groups.

Kutsy said to allow for some handicap parking spaces, three spaces will be added. For a new venue expected to host more than 100 audience members, typically 44 spaces would be required, City Planner Sadie Lloyd said.

“There really isn’t room for them to add more,” she said, adding other public parking areas in downtown could make up the difference. “Contract rezoning allows that flexibility.”

Parking was the biggest concern for neighbors as well, with several simply urging the Planning Board to give a lot of thought to possible parking scenarios. The suggestion that Belfast Maskers work with nearby the Crosby Center for parking spaces was deemed not feasible, as performances also take place on weekends and evenings at Crosby. Lloyd noted the Planning Board can make recommendations to the City Council, but the final decision on contract zones lies with councilors.

Most Planning Board members said they were comfortable with the thought of people parking closer to downtown and walking to the theater, rather than parking on abutting Spring or Court streets. Lloyd urged residents of the neighborhood to contact police if vehicles are blocking driveways.

Also of concern to some neighbors and board members are the organization’s finances. Andrew Shindell, who owns 5 Court St., said generally people in the area are happy with the idea of Maskers making use of the space. But, he wondered, “What resource does Maskers have to care for the building? The concern long-term is not buying but maintaining.”

Lloyd said the Planning Board can recommend that the council probe more deeply into the finances of Maskers, if they choose. Most Planning Board members agreed to trust the judgment of the lending institution providing the nonprofit a loan to buy the building but also agreed to note the financial concerns to the council.

Snow removal, too, was discussed at length. Because of the size of the lot, if more than 24 inches of snow collects, it must be removed from the property by trucks to maintain safety and visibility, Lloyd said. The conditions of approval outline the specifics of snow removal.

A proposed shed structure at the rear of the property requires review by the In Town Design Review Committee. Planning Board members spoke about the shed as it relates to setbacks. Lloyd said she thought the rear setback in this case should be 15 feet; however, Director of Code and Planning Wayne Marshall, in notes referenced during the meeting, said the rear setback is 20 feet. Because of the unclear boundary, Kutsy said she believes Maskers could redesign the shed to fit within the required setbacks. Planning Board members said they would be amendable to offering “relief” from the setbacks as well.

Unanimously, the Planning Board recommended sending the proposal to the council.

May 9 was not the first time Planning Board members addressed a contract rezoning request for 17 Court St. Peace Ridge Sanctuary in Brooks hoped to use the space as a retail location but after a first reading of the proposed contract zone by the City Council, representatives for Peace Ridge decided not to move forward, Lloyd said May 22.

A first reading of the contract rezoning of 17 Court St. to allow Belfast Maskers to proceed is scheduled for the council's June 5 meeting. During the second reading, which has not yet been scheduled, Lloyd said, there will be a public hearing.

Four other properties in Belfast have been redeveloped using contract rezoning — Front Street Shipyard, Phoenix Row on High Street, Fournier Tugs on the waterfront and the former Crosby School, Marshall said in November 2017. Contract rezoning applies only to the specific properties and does not change city-wide zoning ordinances.