WESTBROOK — The Westbrook City Council on Monday gave initial approval for rezoning land between Stroudwater Street and Westbrook Arterial for residential and commercial use. The preliminary vote will allow residents to weigh in at a hearing in two weeks.

The proposal by landowner Kimco Capital Corp. and J.B. Brown & Sons, which is under contract to buy the property, would designate 15 acres near Stroudwater Street for housing and 45 acres off Westbrook Arterial for commercial development. Several years ago, a developer had proposed building the state’s largest shopping complex on the property.

Vincent Veroneau, president of Portland-based developer J.B. Brown, sketched out a blueprint for how the land could be developed: 18 single-family houses along a loop road off Stroudwater Street and, on the other end of the property, retail stores, a 100-room hotel and a block of multi-family housing.

City councilors were concerned that the residential zone might be more densely developed than that and that it might not fit into the surrounding neighborhood.

“The time for us to control that is now,” said Council President Brendan Rielly.

The councilors wanted to know if there could be more commercial development on the site, as was proposed for Stroudwater Place, the massive high-end retail and recreational complex that never moved forward after a contract zone was developed for it in 2008.

“Is this the best that can be done with this property?” said Councilor Paul Emery.

Councilors wondered if J.B. Brown would offer any public amenities along with the zoning change, such as house lots the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center could use for its building trades program.

Councilor John O’Hara pointed out that the Stroudwater Place contract zone had called for construction of a skating rink.

“This group is going to put up nothing,” he said.

Veroneau countered that the skating rink would only have been built after 800,000 square feet of retail space had been developed – a project that he said wouldn’t be feasible, regardless of whether the market could support it, because of the 15 acres of wetlands on the site.

“I understand there were promises made. Those promises can’t be realized,” he said.

Emery argued that the developer could fill in the wetlands, but Veroneau said that would be cost-prohibitive and probably wouldn’t get approved by the Department of Environmental Protection.

“We’d like to maximize it as much as possible. As a realist, I just don’t think we can,” he said.

As for allowing the vocational school to build on the lots, City Administrator Jerre Bryant said, Veroneau had been receptive to selling them.

Rielly suggested the city take control of the whole 15 acres of proposed residential land to guarantee that the housing would fit in the neighborhood, that the vocational school would get lots to build on, and that there would be no access allowed from Stroudwater Street to the commercial development on the property – another concern of neighbors.

Veroneau said the company planned to use money from the sale of the house lots to build a road to the commercial property from the Westbrook Arterial.

“It doesn’t really work to just cleave off 15 acres and say, ‘Here you go,’ ” he said.

Rielly asked that the city work with Veroneau on potential conditions for final approval, so any concerns could be addressed at the public hearing Feb. 10.

The council voted 6-1, with Emery opposed, to give initial approval for the rezoning. The council will vote a second time on whether to give final approval.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

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