Maskers Theater is one step closer to having its own permanent performance space.

City councilors on June 19 approved a contract zone for 17 Court St., a former church where the theater company performed years ago. A portion of the proposed plan — addition of a shed — still must be approved by the In-Town Design Review Committee but the rezoning of the property is paving the way for Maskers to settle down for the first time in more than six years.

Planner Sadie Lloyd said the organization intends to continue using an apartment in the building as a residence and the second floor for a performance space. While Belfast Maskers is a nonprofit organization, the rental unit requires that property taxes be paid, she noted.

Up to 150 people — depending on the opinion of the state Fire Marshal's office — could attend performances, raising concerns by neighbor and councilors about parking. However, Lloyd said rezoning and parking could be considered independently.

She said she would return to the council with possible amendments to the city ordinance that regulates traffic/parking that should address concerns.

The Planning Board recommended a setback waiver to allow the shed to be built closer to the abutting property line than typically allowed. Normal setbacks for a non-residental use are 20 feet; the Planning Board offered relief of 5 feet.

Councilors were mostly supportive of the plan and behind Maskers Theater as a community organization. Neighbors, in previous meetings, expressed concerns about its financial ability to maintain the old church. Andrew Shindell, who owns property on Court Street nearby, said June 5 he was "disheartened by the process" when, he felt, the Planning Board did not consider the organization's finances "deeply enough." He also criticized the board and council for not participating in a site walk.

"The image from on high isn't effective," he said, gesturing to maps prepared by the Planning and Codes office.

Several councilors said they'd been paying more attention to the area since the first reading of the contract rezoning, particularly to parking, including Councilor Mike Hurley.

"People find a place to park and it's not the end of the world," Hurley said.

Maskers Board member Randy Nichols said the organization, and its patrons, are used to walking distances to get to performances.

"It's always been a walking experience," he said.

Councilor Eric Sanders, who performs with Maskers and recused himself from the vote, said there is plenty of parking within a two-block radius of Court and Spring streets.

"If I was going to see a show, I wouldn't park on Spring Street," he said.

Councilor Neal Harkness joked that an enterprising young person should establish a valet service for performances, but acknowledged Maskers Theater, in particular, is used to a lack of parking near performance venues.

"I do think parking is a serious problem," he said.

Councilors left the parking concerns in Lloyd's hands to bring back at a later date, but agreed they want to prohibit parking on both sides of Spring Street from a spot just behind the Maskers property to the intersection with Court Street. Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge will review Maskers' financials, a normal step in the process.

Editor's note: The story has been corrected to more accurately describe the council's parking discussion.