SOUTH PORTLAND – If there’s one thing on which almost everyone living in the condominiums at 72 Ocean St. in South Portland agrees, it’s that they love the new CIA coffee shop, which opened in March on the ground floor, at the corner of D Street.

However, some residents, particularly those living directly above he shop, would prefer if CIA kept its business indoors and off the sidewalk.

That’s not to be, however, as on Monday the City Council voted 6-1 to sign a license agreement with CIA allowing the business to place three tables and six seats, topped by 4-foot umbrellas, on the sidewalk in front of its Ocean Street windows.

Based on the complaints of neighbors, the agreement was scaled back significantly from the six tables requested in an initial version, presented at a May 13 workshop. The council also limited hours of operation and mandated that the outdoor dining area be clearly posted for no smoking and no alcohol consumption.

Most of the council cheered the sidewalk seating, a feature called for in a 2005 neighborhood plan of the Knighville district, which envisioned an atmosphere akin to the Old Port district across Casco Bay in Portland. The CIA proposal, which even drew a letter of support from state Rep. Terry Morrison, was made possible by street reconstruction last summer that widened the sidewalk in front of the building to 8 feet, verses the 3-foot width seen elsewhere in the city.

Councilor Alan Livingston voted against the agreement, for fear that, even at 8 feet wide, the sidewalk will not accommodate diners and pedestrians. Livingston said he also feared the domino effect of similar applications for sidewalk seating in areas even less appropriate.

“I think we are creating a monster we shouldn’t be creating,” he said.

Meanwhile, residents living directly above CIA said they feared the outdoor seating would prove disruptive to their daily living.

“The possibility of noise is a real factor,” said Thomas Marina. “When people are on the street right below my window, I can literally hear everything they say. The only choice we have if we don’t want to hear them is to shut our windows, and I don’t feel we should be in that position.

“I also feel it potentially devalues our property,” said Marino. “I don’t think we would have bought this condo if there has been tables and chairs and business at that time outside the building.”

Margaret Stenberg also complained that the May 15 workshop was conducted without notice to abutters.

“I feel like this was kind of done in secret, behind our backs,” she said, adding that she learned of the agenda item only hours before the meeting.

Although he voted for the agreement, Mayor Thomas Blake faulted the council for making the second change on Ocean Street in as many meetings at the request of CIA owner William Dunnigan. At its May 6 meeting, the council enacted a two-hour parking limit on Ocean Street between E and C streets at the request of Dunnigan and other local business owners who hoped to keep spots clear for their customers.

Blake noted that a July workshop has been scheduled to review recent changes made to Ocean Street, including the parking configuration and one-way traffic pattern created last year following road reconstruction.

“I think we are jumping the gun a little bit,” said Blake, noting that he’d have preferred to assess previous changes before making new ones, even if it meant CIA missing most of the summer season.

Still, Blake, like his peers, said the promise of new life in the area, coupled with the one-year, revocable nature of the agreement if things get too rowdy, may be worth a little extra noise.

“For decades the city has tried very hard to energize and revitalize the Knightville area,” he said. “We actually have pumped, no kidding, millions of dollars into the Mill Creek and Knightville areas to improve them. Not too long ago it was one of our biggest blighted areas.

“But this [sidewalk seating] is an upcoming trend in America,” said Blake. “People like it. People seek this out. It enhances business and it will bring people into the Knightville area, making it an environment like we want.”

Thomas Marino, owner of one of the condos at 72 Ocean St., reflects from his window on the sidewalk seating approved by the City Council Monday for the nearby CIA coffee shop. Marino and some of his neighbors opposed the move, saying the resulting increase in street noise would prove disruptive to their peace and quiet.
The location of the new CIA coffee shop at the corner of Ocean and D streets in South Portland’s downtown Knightville district, where the City Council on Monday approved a license agreement for outdoor seating, much to the consternation of second-story neighbors

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