Council to address Court Street contract rezoning

By Stephanie Grinnell | Nov 21, 2017
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Neighbors opposed to city rezoning that would allow a retail shop to open in the former Universalist Church on Court Street gather for an informal meeting outside the building Nov. 21.

Belfast — A possible fifth contract zone is heading to the City Council after Planning Board members unanimously recommended an application for 17 Court St. move forward.

Peace Ridge Sanctuary in Brooks hopes to establish a retail location in Belfast at that address, which has previously been used as a church, a performance space for Masker's Theater, a photography studio and industrial arts space. Planning Board members on Oct. 25 heard initial plans from real estate agent Mike Cunning, who also represented the applicants Nov. 16. The hearing was continued into November because of lingering concerns around the lack of detail around retail sales as well as questions about parking, hours of operation and a proposed returnable bottle collection structure.

Cunning previously described the retail operation as “upscale” and offering furnishings, art and other items of value donated to support the sanctuary. An existing residence in the building would remain, he said.

“We love the idea that a church, a sanctuary, will become an extension of Peace Ridge Sanctuary in Brooks,” Cunning said.

Planning Board members decided against recommending that the council allow collection of returnables on the property based in part on neighbors' comments in October.

City Planner Wayne Marshall said the applicants had a similar bottle drop collection in Blue Hill and did not encounter problems with trash or overflow. Proposed for the Court Street site is a collection structure designed to mimic the former church, with a 14-foot spire. Planning Board members, including Declan O'Connor and Steve Ryan, expressed some concern with the size and siting of the structure.

“I don't understand how cans would get into a church,” Ryan said, adding, “I don't think this adds to the neighborhood.”

O'Connor said there are other more suitable collection sites in the city that might work better. Planning Board member Margot Carpenter noted the plans for the structure are much larger than she pictured. Residents who spoke Nov. 16 said they are happy the board decided not to endorse the bottle collection structure. Most remained against retail use of the property as well, including Michael Fletcher and Andrew Shindell, both of whom own nearby properties.

“There are a lot of things they could do without changing the laws,” Fletcher said. He noted the neighborhood is still adjusting to the new zoning and changes at the former Crosby School, including a loss of parking that results in more vehicles parked on neighborhood streets.

“If the neighborhood is having a parking issue, it shouldn't be on one person to make up for it,” Carpenter said later in the meeting.

Shindell made a plea to the potential new owners to drop the contract rezoning request and instead host periodic sales and events to support Peace Ridge. Ed Jackson, who owns an abutting property, said he would rather see the building converted to more housing units.

Fletcher brought up the nonprofit status of Peace Ridge Sanctuary and stated property tax on 17 Court St. would be waived. However, Cunning said the building would be privately owned and property taxes paid to the city as usual.

The three voting members of the Planning Board unanimously recommended the contract rezoning to the City Council, without the bottle drop and with the addition of a handicapped parking space. Marshall noted the recommendations are advisory and the final decision lies with the council.

There are four other properties in Belfast that have been rezoned — Front Street Shipyard, Phoenix Row on High Street, the tugboat business on the harbor and the former Crosby School, Marshall said. Contract rezoning applies only to the specific properties and does not change city-wide zoning ordinances.

A first reading of the proposed changes is scheduled for tonight, Nov. 21. There will be no public hearing on the first reading. Another public hearing will take place during the second reading, scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 5.

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Stephanie Grinnell
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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