An owner of the former Maine Rubber building says he won’t tear down the massive, blighted structure at the western end of Westbrook’s Main Street until the city changes the zoning at the site or a tenant commits to the property.
The city secured a $125,000 Community Development Block Grant in April that would cover most of the cost of demolishing the 27,000-square-foot building. The grant was meant to give owners Dave and Jim Elowitch an incentive to tear down the structure.
“It has been our hope that by assisting with the demolition of the property it might help developers envision the possibilities of this wonderful site,” Mayor Colleen Hilton wrote in an email Wednesday.
But Dave Elowitch said this week that the money’s not enough.
“We need to be able to market this to the largest amount of people,” he said.
The sticking point is a drive-through window.
Elowitch believes a bank is one of the most likely businesses to be interested in the site, and that any bank would want a drive-through window.
Drive-through windows are allowed in downtown Westbrook but require a special exception from the Planning Board. Elowitch wants that requirement removed.
“We’ve asked for a very simple thing in my estimation,” he said.
Vacated by Maine Rubber in the late 1990s, the existing building is considered a major barrier to developing Westbrook’s downtown. The owners now rent it out as storage space.
Elowitch said he doesn’t want to lose that income or spend more money on the demolition until he believes he can attract a tenant to the site, located at the intersection of Main Street, Saco Street and William Clarke Drive.
In order to remove the special exception requirement, the Elowitches could apply for a contract zone or a change in the text of the city’s land use ordinances. That would require public hearings, a Planning Board recommendation and, ultimately, approval by the City Council, said City Planner Molly Just.
But those applications would also cost money that Elowitch isn’t willing to spend. He believes the city should make the change on its own, in an effort to work with the owners, as promised.
Just said a drive-through bank isn’t the city’s first choice for the site. Ideally, she said, a developer would build a multi-story building with businesses on the first floor and housing on the upper floors.
She said officials have to talked to the Elowitches about incorporating a drive-through into that kind of development, but would rather not see a drive-through bank on its own.
For the city, it’s important that the site have a distinct look, because it’s the western entrance into downtown Westbrook, said Just.
Elowitch is more concerned about spending money before securing a tenant.
“We’re happy to wait,” he said.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: