Citing ongoing disappointment with the design, signage and lighting plans for a proposed downtown urgent-care medical office, the Westbrook Planning Board on Tuesday halted the approval process again.
The board tabled discussion on the ConvenientMD project, and voted 5-2 against a contract zone amendment that would allow larger signage on the western side of the building. The board thought the developers did not do enough to address their previous concerns.
Board member Rebecca Dillon said she was “disappointed” that the developers switched out a few materials instead of reworking the building.
“I have no issue with this use, but my issue is that it looks like a strip-mall building, not something that is appropriate in the downtown,” she said.
She said the Westbrook board is “very business-friendly” and that the lack of support for the project from Planning Board shows how “weak” the design is.
The site has received a higher level of scrutiny from Planning Board members due to its prominent location at the city’s western gateway, at 942 Main St. The triangular-shaped parcel sits facing the intersection of Route 25 to Gorham, William Clarke Drive and Main Street, and has a long history.
ConvenientMD, which operates a number of urgent-care and walk-in medical clinics in New Hampshire, would open its first clinic in Maine if the project is approved by the Planning Board. Officials from the company have also said they are planning clinics in Scarborough and Portland.
Dennis Myers, the architect working for the developers who presented an updated plan Tuesday, said there have been a lot of “hopes and dreams” for the site, but that the developers felt the site worked best for a retail-type use due to its visability.
Myers said the previous comments centered on the proposed stucco siding and form of the building. The amended design breaks up an awning running along the entire building, and adds clapboard siding to various portions.
“We looked at a number of options,” he said, referring to the board’s suggestions of clapboard or brick.
He said the developers drove around the neighborhood and saw buildings with concrete block, clapboard and metal panel – elements that he attempted to add into the new design presented Tuesday.
He said the changes are more compatible with the surrounding mix of residential and commercial buildings.
“We think this is a positive contribution to the neighborhood,” he said.
ConvenientMD uses a quick-care model, which focuses on what it says is fast, efficient and cost-effective medical care. Since 2012, ConvenientMD has opened eight locations, including one in Nashua, N.H., in December 2015.
The amendment also sought by ConvenientMD Tuesday would allow for a signage variation, where the proposed main entrance (facing Gorham), would be allowed a much larger sign than what is normally permitted. Signage is allocated based on the square footage of the building wall. Although larger on one side, the total signage for the site would not exceed city regulations. If the amendment had passed, a 30-foot-wide lighted sign would face Gorham.
Max Puyanic, the co-founder and CEO of ConvenientMD, reiterated to the board Tuesday that the nature of the business requires visability – making sure potential patients know where they are. He said more than 50 percent of their patients come from a distance greater than 10 miles, part of the reason they chose the site.
Puyanic said the proposed signs would be internally lit at night. He said not being allowed to be lit at night would be a first for company’s nine facilities.
During a public hearing on the site plan, former Westbrook Mayor Bill O’Gara was critical of the project, stating that the proposed sign facing Gorham was too large.
“Do we need anything this outlandish?” he said. “This is a beautiful city, and I’m concerned about the need for that there.”
Puyanic argued to the board that ConvenientMD would provide a great service to the city. He said he was disappointed with the comments from board members.
Both Puyanic and Myers said the Village Review Overlay Zone Committee, part of the Planning Department, did not have an issue with the proposed signage during its workshop in February.
Longtime Planning Board member Rene Daniel said his biggest concern was the signage and lights, and called the project “cold.”
Board member Dennis Isherwood said he “never envisoned” the property looking like what was proposed. He said patients coming from 10 miles away aren’t from Westbrook.
“You want to put up a big sign in Westbrook to attract people from out of Westbrook,” he said.
The property was once Yudy’s Tire Co. and Maine Rubber International, started by the late Julius “Yudy” Elowitch and his two brothers. After Maine Rubber relocated in 1998, the building was rented for storage. The building finally was demolished in August 2013, following lengthy wrangling between the city and the property owner, David Elowitch.
Environmental issues at the site and the high cost of demolition prohibited redevelopment for years. However, in late 2011, the city secured a $125,000 grant to help pay for the demolition, and negotiated with Elowitch and his company, Storage Realty, to move the work forward.
Mark Malone, the broker on the property for Storage Realty, said Tuesday that the property had been on the market for a long time, and has struggled to find a use that would fit the goals of the city. He said that after nearly 20 years, a past vision for developing a multi-story office or residential building on the site is “just not there.”
Malone said businesses that have looked at the lot have been mostly fast-food businesses and banks. At one point, a pharmacy had the parcel under contract but fell through after a year.
He said ConvenientMD provides “a really good balance” for the property.
“To have medical services in a smart-looking building, that truthfully thrilled us,” he said. “I thought it was a great fit.”
During discussions leading up to the old building’s demolition, Westbrook officials argued that a more attractive use of the site would help the surrounding economy. When they learned of the ConvenientMD plans in December 2015, city officials praised the incoming business.
Assistant City Administrator Bill Baker has said the urgent-care office will take the parcel “from many years of slum and blight to jobs and services and an attractive use on a gateway lot.”
The Westbrook Planning Board is set to meet again Tuesday, March 15, but it is unknown whether the ConvenientMD site plan will appear on that agenda.