High-density housing doesn't belong in commercial zone, opponents say

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Developer Susan Duchaine and Republican gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody attend a Planning Board workshop meeting Monday in Gorham. The two business owners oppose potential high-density residential use in changes under review for the Narragansett Development District.

GORHAM — A proposal to allow residential units in mixed-use high rises in a commercial zone drew opposition Monday night at a Planning Board subcommittee workshop.

Developer Susan Duchaine and business owner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody of Gorham spoke against allowing high-density residential use in the Narragansett Development District zone. The workshop was held to review potential rule changes for such a use.

“This is the highest density I’ve ever seen in Gorham. I’m shocked,”  Duchaine, president of Design Dwellings Inc., told the committee, which held the workshop to review potential rule changes for the district.

Moody, whose company owns a large land tract in the zone, favors preserving the district for commercial and industrial growth, although he does support allowing start-up business owners to live in apartments above their businesses in the district. “We’ve got the rest of the town for residential,” he said.

The subcommittee is looking at redefining uses allowed in the Narragansett Development District now zoned primarily for commercial buildings. The district is located along a stretch of Narragansett Street (Route 202) and runs westerly towards Buxton from the roundabout with the Bernard P. Rines Bypass.

The district is served by public water, sewer and industrial electrical power.

The Town Council wants to expand the zone and amend regulations to allow mixed uses to comply with the town’s updated comprehensive plan approved in 2016. It sent the measure to the Planning Board last September for its recommendations to implement zone changes.

“We’re looking at the comprehensive plan,” Town Planner Tom Poirier said. “That’s what is driving this.”

The subcommittee, officially the Planning Board Comp Plan Implementation Committee, began its review in December. Under consideration is allowing buildings up to four stories or 50 feet high with multi-family housing on upper floors.

Poirier said the subcommittee is “wrestling” with the density matter.

“This is a work in progress,” said George Fox, chairman of the subcommittee. “The intent is not to be heavily residential.”

Under the comprehensive plan, the district would be renamed the Narragansett Mixed-Use Development District. Allowable uses include offices, light manufacturing, recreational facilities, hotels, restaurants, automotive services and multi-family residences in mixed-use buildings.

Single and two-family homes should not be allowed in that zone, according to the comprehensive plan.

Duchaine compared density of the proposal to Portland’s Sagamore Village project that sprung up during World War II. “Everything is allowed in this zone,” Duchaine said about changes proposed for the Narragansett zone.

Moody’s Collision Center in Gorham is located in the Narragansett District as is the vacant, 62-acre former harness racing track Moody’s bought from Hannaford in 2016.

Duchaine’s office is located in the Narragansett District at the roundabout.

The subcommittee, when its study is completed, will present its findings to the full Planning Board that will hold a public hearing and vote on the matter.

It then returns to the Town Council for action. Town Councilor Paul Smith attended Monday’s workshop.

Monday’s workshop marked the first appearance of Moody and Duchaine at one of the subcommittee’s monthly reviews.

“I think we got the message loud and clear,” Fox said of their objections to high-density residential use in the Narragansett zone.

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