Downtown design standards proposed for new buildings

462
The Planning Board has recommended an ordinance amendment that would set appearance standards for new buildings in the city's downtown district, which includes Main Street.

WESTBROOK — The Planning Board has recommended an ordinance amendment that would set appearance standards for the downtown district.

The board on Tuesday unanimously approved recommending the amendment to the City Council. The amendment, if approved, would replace the existing Village Review Overlay Zone ordinance language.

The downtown district standards will create design standards for all new buildings being constructed in the zone to create a uniform and cohesive look and feel.

“The downtown is especially vulnerable to intrusion from incompatible uses,” the amendment reads.

City Planner Jennie Franceschi described the downtown zone as encompassing  the area between Conant Street and the Cumberland Mills traffic triangle, including the area between Main Street and William Clarke Drive.

The April 18 meeting started with a public hearing on the ordinance amendment, during which four people spoke. Among them was Abigail Cioffi, the director of the Downtown Westbrook Coalition, whose organization gave input to the Planning Board as it wrote the ordinance.

Cioffi said setting appearance standards for the downtown district is “a huge improvement” and “great for the future of downtown Westbrook.”

The standards wouldn’t apply to buildings already existing in the downtown area. New buildings being constructed would have to adhere to design standards, including that building must be two stories tall and must have retail or commercial space on the bottom floor.

Buildings that aren’t fronting Main Street, though, don’t have to have commercial businesses on the first floor and may have residential properties on that level.

Other standards include that new buildings must have facades compatible with surrounding buildings. Buildings must use three or less colors on the exterior and must be made with natural building materials. Bricks and stones are encouraged for the exterior.

“To maintain visual vibrancy,” the amendment reads, all building exteriors must be comprised of 70 percent windows or other architectural features.

The design standards encourage more business development downtown. One resident said he was concerned about a lack of parking if more people visit the downtown area, but Franceschi said this is a goal.

“We want to create a parking problem,” she said.

Franceschi said that will mean business is good in Westbrook. 

Planning Board member Joseph Marden said the amendment would make the downtown area more appealing than it currently is.

“I think it’s a big upgrade over what we have,” he said.

Vice Chairman Rene Daniel said he wants the city to have the downtown he experienced as a child growing up in Westbrook.

“Main Street was a very elegant place to walk through and I’d like to see it come back to that,” he said. “I think there’s room on Main Street to meld the modern with the old.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

The Planning Board has recommended an ordinance amendment that would set appearance standards for new buildings in the city’s downtown district, which includes Main Street.

SHARE