February 26, 2010

Clash of visions in Saco planThis is a 6-column headyne for dummy type

By ANN KIM Staff Writer


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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Monday, December 14, 2009: Erika Donneson lives on Pleasant St. in Saco, in a farmhouse built in the 1600s near six parcels of land that a proposed CVS would be built on.

Jack Milton

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Monday, December 14, 2009: This brick house on Pleasant St., Saco, is one of the buildings that would be removed from six parcels of land where a proposed CVS would be built.

Jack Milton

Staff Writer

SACO — Seven buildings, mostly homes built in the 19th century, would be razed to make way for a CVS store under a proposal that will go before the Planning Board tonight.

The 13,225-square-foot store and its 54 parking spaces would be on Elm Street, across from the entrance to the Saco Valley Shopping Center. Six lots on Elm and Pleasant streets and Thornton Avenue would be put together to form the 1.17-acre site.

The developer has purchase-and-sale agreements with the property owners.

The site is in a zone in which both commercial and residential uses are allowed, but the proposal has been criticized by people who feel the project is not in keeping with the vision for the neighborhood.

''This is one of the largest wholesale destructions of historic properties in Saco's history,'' said Mark Johnston, a former mayor who owns property in the vicinity.

Other concerns that have been raised are the project's effect on nearby Main Street businesses, the destruction of housing, and the traffic and other effects on neighbors.

The properties that would be demolished are a vacant commercial building that housed an ice cream shop and a Quiznos restaurant, single-family homes, apartment buildings, and a building that is both a home and an insurance office.

The homes were built from 1842 to 1878, according to tax records. In all, they represent 17 units of housing. The buildings are in varying states of repair, from a tidy Colonial with well-manicured shrubs to a multi-unit that could benefit from attention.

John Grammas, the New Hampshire-based developer, said he has worked closely with the city's staff and has a plan that meets all zoning requirements.

''We're not going to the board looking for waivers,'' he said. ''The present surroundings now could use a nice face-lift, but nobody has put it together.''

Grammas said the store's architecture was designed to complement the surroundings. The building would be brick, with some clapboards on the rear, columns and many windows. He said the plans also include extensive landscaping, limited curb cuts and fewer parking spaces than he would like.

City Planner Bob Hamblen said Grammas will also be asked to do $20,000 to $30,000 worth of traffic improvements that are part of Saco's master plan.

Hamblen said the CVS project has ignited a philosophical debate about area's zoning.

''The city, in a larger sense, has recognized 'Holy moly, there are potentially projects in the B3 zone that we philosophically do not agree with,''' he said.

Elm Street, which is also Route 1, is heavily traveled. In the area where the CVS is proposed, the street has gas stations, a credit union, a bank and a car repair shop. The street also leads to a shopping center whose tenants include Shaw's and Renys.

The CVS is expected to generate 1,166 daily trips, with 35 in weekday morning peak times and 116 in evening peak times.

Not far away are residential side streets. Erika Donneson, who lives on Pleasant Street, thinks the CVS project would be incompatible with the neighborhood.

Donneson, a self-employed musician who lives a block from the site, says the mixed-use zoning of the area should be meant to allow residents to operate businesses from their homes. She can't imagine delivery trucks on Pleasant Street or the removal of historic structures for a chain drugstore.

''If it's successful, I promise there's going to be a fit -- a public fit,'' she said.

Mayor Roland Michaud had hoped for a moratorium so Saco could sort out the land-use issues, but the idea didn't have enough support from the City Council.

The council did direct the Planning Board and the city's staff to study the zone and report back any recommendations.

''Now, whatever happens, will happen,'' Michaud said.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:


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