PORTLAND — The city could become home to another university, if Portland’s Elks lodge can find a new home.
Bangor-based Husson University won approval from the City Council on Monday night to move forward with its plan to operate a satellite campus on outer Congress Street.
The deal hinges on the site’s current occupant – Portland Lodge 188 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks – acquiring a building on Warren Avenue.
If the Elks can buy the building occupied by Keeley the Katerer, at 178 Warren Ave., Husson will go before the Planning Board for site plan review for 1945 Congress St.
Steve Corey, who chairs the Elks’ building committee, said the club’s space on Congress Street is too big and costly to operate. He said the Elks membership has declined from 2,000 six years ago to 900 today. With fewer members to support its operations, the club felt it needed a smaller lodge. Corey said the Elks have a tentative agreement to buy the Keeley building.
The City Council cleared Husson’s path by unanimously approving a zoning change to allow colleges, universities and trade schools to operate as conditional uses in the zone where Husson wants to operate.
The Planning Board considered the zoning change in February but deadlocked 3-3, leaving the council to decide the matter.
After informal negotiations between Husson and the Planning Board, the board revised its position, indicating that it could support the zoning change with two conditions.
Those conditions stipulate that any university or college be on a major street to operate in a residential zone, and that the institution must show the city that the site is large enough to accommodate expansions. The conditions were accepted by the council.
Councilor John Anton said the conditions convinced him to vote in favor of the zoning change, but he urged Husson officials to meet with neighbors to discuss any future plans for expansion on the site. “I think (Husson) is a great add to the city,” he said.
Not everyone agreed. Two neighbors, Paul Dubois and Bill Linnell, said that having a university next to their homes would significantly alter the character of their neighborhood.
The Stroudwater Neighborhood Association has gone on record as supporting the zoning change.
Linnell said he and his wife moved to Stroudwater from Cape Elizabeth a few years ago.
“It is quiet. We’ve got deer, fox and coyotes hollering at night. We’ve really enjoyed living there,” Linnell said. “(The university) is going to change the character.”
Mark Malone, a partner in Malone Commercial Brokers who represents Husson and the Elks, said Husson plans to close its satellite campus near the Maine Mall in South Portland and move those 350 students to the campus in Portland, which already has the University of Southern Maine and the University of New England.
He said the proposal calls for a developer to buy the Elks property and renovate it before leasing it back to Husson. The new campus would have a 16,000- to 24,000-square-foot classroom facility.
Enrollment would likely top out at 450 students, with a maximum of 95 to 100 on campus at any one time, Malone said. Classes would be held primarily in the late afternoon and evenings, as well as weekends. All classes would end by 10 p.m.
Also Monday, the Port City Music Hall was granted an after-hours entertainment license.
Portland police initially objected to Port City’s request, saying that large crowds on city streets after 1 a.m. could contribute to disturbances and fights. But after meeting with Port City management, Assistant Police Chief Vern Malloch said the concerns have been addressed.
Councilors voted 9-0 to approve the permit, which will allow Port City Music Hall to remain open from 1 to 3 a.m. for special events. During that time, the business cannot serve alcohol.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: