Gorham planners give OK for upward growth

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GORHAM — The Planning Board Monday unanimously sent to the Town Council  recommendations to amend the Narragansett Development District to expand commercial uses and allow residences on floors above businesses.

Buildings could be up to four stories or 50 feet tall.

Poised to be renamed Narragansett Mixed-Use Development District, it stretches along a section of Narragansett Street west of the roundabout with the Bernard P. Rines Bypass. The district includes the 62-acre, former horse racetrack.

If approved by the Town Council, the district would allow a variety of businesses.

The Town Council sent the matter to the Planning Board a year ago to bring the zoning for the district into compliance with the town’s Comprehensive Plan passed in 2016. A Planning Board subcommittee, the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee chaired by George Fox, began its review in December last year and finished its work last month.

Fox said at Monday’s meeting a goal was to encourage commercial growth but not to compete with Gorham Village. “It was a bit of a balancing act,” Fox said.

Allowable commercial businesses would include offices, light industries, indoor repair services, hotels and schools.  Businesses permitted as part of mixed-use development include retail stores and shopping centers with stores. But individual stores would be required  to have less than 7,000 square feet of gross floor area.

The committee developed regulations about the density of multi-family housing in the district.

According to the Comprehensive Plan, single and two-family residences should not be allowed in the development district. Monday’s Planning Board hearing drew only one public comment.

Developer Susan Duchaine from the public podium spoke about the restrictions that hamper development in that district. “I’d rather see this go to roadside commercial,” Duchaine said.

Lee Pratt, a Planning Board member, made a motion recommending adoption to the Town Council and Fox seconded it. The Planning Board approved it 6-0.

In other action Monday, the Planning Board, appearing stuck in a perplexing situation, postponed action on a preliminary review of a 14-lot subdivision off South Street near the roundabout. The project, Douglas Woods, is proposed by Duchaine’s Design Dwellings.

At issue is the procedure about continuing review of the project because of an inconsistency between allowable residential uses in zoning and the town’s Comprehensive Plan that does not allow single family and duplex homes in the area.

In Monday’s meeting, the town’s lawyer, Natalie Burns, represented the Planning Board and John Bannon spoke as the lawyer for Duchaine.

Bannon argued the board can’t deny the application based on the Comprehensive Plan.

The Comprehensive Plan also indicates the area would “potentially” be served by the continuation of the East-West connector, a reference to a so-called spur linking the Maine Turnpike with the Rines Bypass. “I’d like to make a deal with the turnpike,” Duchaine told the board, but said she’d develop the property, if the turnpike doesn’t move forward.

The board postponed a discussion of Duchaine’s subdivision request to a workshop to be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20, in a conference room across from the planning office on the second floor of the municipal center, 75 South St.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or email rlowell@keepmecurrent.com

Gorham Planning Board Monday recommended the Town Council adopt amendments to the Narragansett Development District to allow a mix of commercial uses along with residential units on upper floors above businesses. The district runs along a stretch of Narragansett Street and includes the former horse racetrack site pictured to the right.