Property sale, part one

The South Portland City Council cleared the way Monday for the sale of city-owned lot at 25 Colonial Ave. The 10,000-square-foot property, the last lot on the dead-end road, is one of 46 taken by the city for back taxes between 1923 and 2009 that went under review last year. The Planning Board recommended selling off 22 of the properties, totaling 4.99 acres, including the Colonial Avenue site, grandfathered from current zoning rules and eligible to be divided into two building lots. The city advertised the lot and solicited 39 potential buyers, receiving one bid for $42,785 from Star Homes Inc. The lot was assessed at $30,300. Star Homes owner Joseph Frustaci forst expressed interest in the property in a February 1 letter to Town Manager Jim Gailey, appearing at a City Council workshop that month to make his case. At the time, Councilor Linda Cohen divulged that her daughter and son-in-law, April and Lenny Tracy, were partners in the project. Nothing was said of that connection at Monday’s council meeting. Frustaci said in February, the lots need 850 cubic yards of fill before they can be built upon. Although Colonial Avenue was recently paved and remains under a no-dig moratorium until 2016, Frustaci will be allowed to extend utilities 100 feet to his new lots, provide he pay to return the street to its current condition. After $1,000 in legal fees paid to City Attorney Sally Daggett to double-check the title, 60 percent of the sale proceeds, or $25,071 will go into South Portland’s land bank fund, used to acquire public property. The remainder, $16,714, will go into a reserve account created for construction of a new Public Services Complex on Highland Avenue, a project slated to go before voters in November.

Property sale, part two

The South Portland City Council on Monday unanimously endorsed a plan to sell portions of three vacant lots off Noyes Street, totaling 1.25 acres, to four abutting property owners. Because each has a “special interest” in the lots, they will not be put out to bid. In January, MaineLy Property Management, caretakers of the Super 8 on Route 1, expressed interest in buying one of the Noyes Street lots after the City Council listed them among 22 taken for back taxes which it intended to sell off. That was followed in February by a purchase request from American Steel and Aluminum, located on Wallace Avenue, and in March by three Noyes Street homeowners, all of who wanted the lots to maintain a “buffer space” between themselves and the motel. At a workshop in April, the City Council rebuffed MaineLy, based in part on complaints from the Noyes Street residents and a history of trouble at the motel, including 37 police calls in the first four months of 2013, and 68 visits in 2012. Following repeated calls, the city in May evicted all tenants from one of the Super 8 buildings, deemed to be in violation of fire codes. Although one of the Noyes Street properties has changed hands since the April workshop, the council gave City Manager Jim Gailey the go-ahead to sell all four parcels. Sixty percent of the final sale price will go into South Portland’s Land Bank, used to acquire public property, while the remainder will be placed in a reserve account created for construction of a new Public Services Complex on Highland Avenue, a project slated to go before voters in November. In addition to the 1.25 acres to be sold, the city will retain 1.28 low-lying acres of the existing lots as green space.

No harm, no foul

The South Portland City Council on Monday voted unanimously to enter into a consent agreement with Bank of America regarding a property at 16 Calais St. The bank took the property at foreclosure in December and in subsequent surveys found that a garage on the lot encroached 2.2 feet on the 20-foot boundary line setback mandated in city zoning ordinances, a potential issue now that the bank wished to sell the property. According to Code Enforcement Officer Pat Doucette, a permit for the garage was issued to a prior owner in 1990. City Manager Jim Gailey said the bank would not meet the “practical difficulty” standard needed to get a variance from the Board of Appeals. However, he said, the City Council does have “prosecutorial discretion” over which zoning violations to pursue in court. Under the consent agreement, the bank will reimburse the city $450 in legal fees spent on the issue, and the city will look the other way on the setback violation. “In many cases, the neighbors never even realize a property had been in violation for decades,” said Councilor Gerard Jalbert, speaking from five terms worth of experience on the appeals board. “Once a property has been there for a very long time, people seem to become more forgiving.”

Workshop schedule

The South Portland City Council has set a schedule for future workshops. On Monday, July 22, the council will take up the report of an ad hoc Blue-Ribbon Commission on public compensation. The commission called on maintaining council stipends at the $3,000 set in 1986, but increasing school board stipends $500 to $1,500. The commission also advised letting city councilors get on South Portland’s health insurance plan at their own cost. The current practice and paying 100 percent of that cost will end in November.

July 29 is being held as an open date, if needed, to discuss a Waterfront Protection Ordinance, which got on the November ballot via citizen petition. The Planning Board is slated to conduct a public hearing on the proposal on July 23, while the council has already set aside Aug. 5 to address the issue. On Aug. 12, the council will conduct a field trip, stopping first to tour Wilkinson Park on New York Avenue before proceeding to the regional dispatch center and crime lab in Portland, neither of which councilors have seen since they were created.

On Aug. 26, the council will take up a local property tax relief program, expected to need revision based on changes now being made in the state’s circuit-breaker program. It also will examine the farmer’s market on Hinckley Drive to determine if, based on participation and consumer traffic patterns, is should continue at that location. Topics for dates to be determined this fall include: Road striping plans following the repaving of East Broadway this summer, amending the city’s sustainability resolve, a Climate Action Plan for carbon reduction, the use of city sidewalks by businesses and how to handle the increasing number of public events requiring road closures. A joint workshop with the school board is expected to come in September. Further out will come workshops on possible consolidation of bus services with Portland and Biddeford, a Buy Local purchasing requirement and a presentation on electronic communication and Maine’s Right-to-Know law.

Semi construction

The South Portland Planning Board voted 5-0 at its June 11 meeting to approve a site plan amendment, allowing Fairchild Semiconductor to build a 2,030-square-foot building to house gas cylinders at its manufacturing plant at 333 Western Ave. The project will include replacement of equipment to control volatile organic compounds and to relocate an associated exhaust stack. A company spokesman said the new storage building will free space, allowing Fairchild to conduct activities within its own plant that currently are performed at the nearby Texas Instruments facility. The project was cleared with the Long Creek Watershed Management District.

Welding warehouse

The South Portland Planning Board voted 4-1 at its June 11 meeting to approve a site plan amendment, allowing Maine Oxy-Acetylene Supply Company to build a 5,000-square-foot warehouse next to its retail site at 65 Wallace Ave. The new building will have a paved loading dock and the company intends to convert the existing paved area in front of the current building into a green space. A company spokesman said the retail operation will not change and that the number of employees will remain the same. However the larger storage space portends reduced truck traffic to and from the site. Planning Board Chairwoman Molly Butler-Bailey voted against approval, citing concern for wetlands. To build the new warehouse, the company will fill in 975 square feet of forested wetlands, for which it will pay a wetland compensation fee of $1,950.

Clean contract

The South Portland Board of Education voted at its June 10 meeting to award a five-year contract to Maine Paper and Janitorial Products of Hermon for custodial supplies, training, equipment and repair services. Maine Paper’s $600,000 bid beat out two other vendors deemed to have submitted complete proposals. Swish Kenco Ltd. of Bangor bid $664,332, while Clean-O-Rama of Gorham offered $731,915. “This contract will save the district approximately $15,000 per year in funding but also in time, as it will be a single-source vendor with a history of quick response and follow-up, making us more efficient in what we do,” wrote Russ Brigham, director of buildings and grounds, in a memo to the school board.

New buildings

At its July 9 meeting, the South Portland Planning Board gave unanimous approval to two development projects. J.R. Seeley Company got permission to merge two lots in the John Roberts Business Park at 30 Donald B. Dean Drive. The approved subdivision and site plan review calls on a construction of a new 12,500-square-foot office building for Residential Mortgage Services. On a somewhat smaller scale, the board also cleared the way for Mosher Street Realty Trust to build a 952-square-foot, two-story home on a non-conforming lot of record at 54 Mosher St.

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