SOUTH PORTLAND – The South Portland Planning Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to recommend the city sell 1,500 square feet of land belonging to the main branch of the public library to a nearby pizza place.

Otto Pizza, a popular Portland-based chain with five locations in Maine and Massachusetts, is scheduled to open in August in the former Getty gas station at 159 Cottage Road. In a memo to the Planning Board, City Manager Jim Gailey said the idea to sell the library land “was staff generated” and proposed to the property owner.

“The former Getty parcel has seen a number of unsuccessful businesses come and go since the gas station closed a number of years ago,” wrote Gailey. “Now, with a very successful business coming to town, staff have a concerns of parking availability on the small parcel.”

According to Community Planner Steve Puleo, about five parking spots could fit into the triangular parcel the city hopes to sell, boosting the Otto lot to “about 17” spaces. Even without the extra spaces, the plan presented to the city does meet the minimum number of parking spaces required by ordinance for the dining room, expected to number 30 seats in what was once the duel garage bays of the gas station.

Notices were sent to 103 property owners located within 500 feet of the project site. However, only two showed up for Tuesday’s hearing. Crystal Goodrich, who lives on Highland Avenue directly behind the project site, asked that a stockade fence be erected between the properties to act as a buffer from noise in the new parking lot and the sight of a dumpster. She also asked that a small wooded area be cleared of deadwood, and that the city also maintain trees on space to be retained by the library, because they are becoming choked by hemlock.

Otherwise, Goodrich was very enthusiastic for her new neighbor.

“I love Otto pizza so I hope they stay there forever,” she said.

The Planning Board decided its purview to weigh in on land sales did not extend to ordering the city to maintain its trees. However, it did agree to forward a stipulation for the stockade fence in its recommendation to the City Council.

South Richland Street resident Scott Ewing questioned traffic control at the small lot, although he seemed to reserve most of his concern for Red’s Dairy Freeze, across the intersection from the new Otto location.

“I know Red’s is an institution but has an impact, especially from uncontrolled traffic backing into the intersection,” he said. “There’s a curb cut there going directly into the intersection, which I’m amazed still exists.”

City Planner Tex Haeuser said there will be a divided curb cut into the Otto’s lot, with “an in and out” onto Cottage Road. Police Chief Ed Googins has recommend that the Highland Avenue curb cut be a “right turn out only,” said Haeuser.

Otto partners Mike Keon and Anthony Allen have been reluctant to talk about plans for their new location since getting their restaurant license from the City Council May 20, “just in case something happens.”

However, Portland developer Arthur Girard, owner of 159 Cottage Road LLC, which bought the old Getty station at auction last August for $148,500, said he intends to build the parking lot and make any required improvements, such as the fence, even if his deal with Otto falls through.

Still, even though he normally focuses on much larger projects though his firm A&M Partners, such as the Post Office Square building across from Portland City Hall and renovation of the old JJ Nissen bakery on Washington Avenue, Girard expressed great confidence in potential for Otto, in an area of South Portland rapidly becoming known as “restaurant row.”

“Normally I don’t do something small like this, but as a designer and a builder, it [the building] is just so cute. It’s something I really want to do,” he said. “I have a lot of faith in the Otto people. I think we’ll make really great partners. I know we can do some really nice things.”

Last summer, the City Council briefly considered bidding on the 159 Cottage Road lot, a the suggestion of Library Director Kevin Davis, who proposed tearing down the old gas station to improve sight lines to the library, one of the few examples of mid-century modern architecture in the city, from the Red’s intersection.

Although underground gas tanks were removed form the quarter-acre lot in 2006, the City Council declined to place a bid, in part because Maine Department of Environmental Protection reports from as recently as February 2011 found the site “not clean to MDEP satisfaction.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Girard said a more recent DEP report had given a more positive assessment of the property

“Other than two little pipes under the ground, it’s clean as a whistle,” he said.

A request to Puleo for a copy of the latest DEP assessment was not returned by press time.

Given the number of new restaurants permitted recently, and recent well-pubic issues across the river in Portland, Planning Board member Bill Laidley questioned if South Portland could keep pace with public safety needs.

“One thing I’m concerned about, and I know it’s not in the purview of this board, but it is in the purview of the city, is inspections,” he said. “Is the city going to have resources enough to keep up with this?”

“I will bring it to the city manager tomorrow to make sure we have adequate staffing, but I know for a fact that we do today,” said Assistant City Manager Jon Jennings, who spearheads economic development in South Portland.


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