South Portland officials say a multi-unit development off Highland Avenue would change the neighborhood.

The South Portland City Council has so far rejected a proposal by local housing developer Dan White to change the zoning on land off Highland Avenue, near the high school, to allow for greater density.

But this week City Manager Jim Gailey said White has not given up and is still trying to find a way to make the project work.

The current zoning allows for a density of two units per acre, but White was initially hoping to get as many as 32 units on a little more than 2.5 acres.

On Tuesday, White, who owns H.W. Land Co., told the Current his hope is to “find a scenario that makes everyone happy.”

That scenario, he said, would still include preserving the rest of the 9.3 acres of land at 590 Highland Ave., which consists of a woodland pond and the headwaters of Kimball Brook.

Barbara Dow-Nucci, who owns the property, said it was always the wish of her family to keep the woodland and pond area, known as Dow’s Woods, undeveloped and open for public use, if possible, which is why she supports White’s development proposal.

“We are evaluating a couple scenarios and hope to get our ducks in a row as soon as possible,” White said on Tuesday. “My gut feeling is that the zone change is now out and we’ll have to make it work within the existing zone.

“We still want to do the conservation piece, but the question is how to do that for the lowest possible (development) costs,” he added.

White said this week he is now considering the possibility of duplexes or small, cottage-type housominiums.

At a workshop on Jan. 5, Dow-Nucci told the City Council that White’s plan “takes into consideration the need for good housing stock and to preserve (open space) for generations to come. I’m confident the development would be aesthetically pleasing and would respect the existing neighborhood.”

In early November, the Planning Board gave unanimous approval to the zone change request and in late October White held a meeting to discuss his development proposal with the neighborhood.

The Planning Board found that the project is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for compact developments that would be served by the existing transportation network. In addition, the comprehensive plan encourages infill development in the in-town areas of the city.

The Planning Board also noted that the Dow’s Woods acreage is one of the last remaining high-priority parcels deemed worthy of preserving, which Steve Jocher, president of the South Portland Land Trust, confirmed when speaking to the City Council during its Jan. 5 workshop.

While several neighbors spoke in favor of White’s development plan at the recent meeting, several others, including Kathryn DiPhilippo, executive director of the South Portland Historical Society, spoke against it.

DiPhilippo said it was difficult for her to come out against the development proposal because “I so want this nature preserve.”

That was the same dilemma facing city councilors, who all said that while they would love to see the Dow’s Woods parcel remain undeveloped, the proposal by White was just too dense and added too many housing units and traffic.

“With this proposal we have an opportunity (to preserve a unique parcel), but to capitalize we must give away something,” Councilor Claude Morgan said. “So we must make sure we are making an equitable deal.

“Thirty-two units is too dense,” he added. “I feel like this is spot zoning and would radically change that part of Highland Avenue. That’s why I can’t support it.”

Councilor Tom Blake agreed.

“If we approved this zone change, it would alter the whole landscape of Highland Avenue. We have zones for a reason and the precedent here also concerns me,” he said.

Blake said it was his hope that White would be willing to go back to the drawing board to find a way to make the conservation piece happen.

Councilor Patti Smith also said the 32 units was too dense.

“This would change the fabric of the area so drastically it just doesn’t feel right. Let’s talk some more and come to some other solution,” she said.

This week, White was unsure when he would be back before the city with a revised development proposal. But, he said, his goal is to get the issue settled as soon as possible.

In other development news, during its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 21, which was held after the Current’s deadline, the City Council was expected to approve a zone change on the western side of the city that would allow for construction of a $30 million congregate housing facility for those 55 and older.

The developer, Cameron General Contractors based in Lincoln, Neb., said the development is based on an all-inclusive resort model and would include many amenities, such as 24-hour dining and more.

The zone change is being requested for a 10-acre site on Executive Drive, which is off Running Hill Road. The facility would be three stories in height and consist of 130 units. The units would vary in price depending on the size.

This week, Mayor Linda Cohen said she expects the zoning change to pass on first reading.

“Based on the feedback from the workshop, I do believe the zone change in the west end will pass. It’s a great project,” she said.

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