I’ve seen a lot of people fight developments that they think are too big.

This one has too many housing units. That one would cause too much traffic. The other is so tall it blocks the view.

But there is a new threat on the horizon that should make every Portlander’s blood boil.

It’s a building that’s too small.

A developer has proposed putting a one-story CVS pharmacy on a piece of property that now is home to five buildings, including three that hold Palmer Spring Co., David Munster’s TV Sales and Service, and the Forest Gardens bar.

This would be a lot worse than a skyscraper. If this plan goes through, Portland will miss a historic opportunity to do something meaningful about the housing shortage and make room for everyone who wants to live here. The City Council can stop it, but it will have to act quickly.

The problem is not what CVS is proposing – although why anyone thinks Portland needs another pharmacy is beyond me – but where it wants to put it. The Palmer Spring block is on a bus line, across Forest Avenue from the University of Southern Maine and around the corner from a supermarket. It’s in easy walking distance to Woodfords Corner, the downtown and the waterside trail network.

Demand for housing in neighborhoods with attributes like that has driven the rental market on the peninsula to absurd levels, with million-dollar condominiums in what used to be working-class homes. If there is a place to extend the kind of urban environment that so many people like so much, this part of Forest Avenue is it.

What this development puts at risk is not only what exists now, but also what could be built if the city had been more forward-thinking in its land-use policy.

It’s not that people weren’t talking about it.

In 2012, the City Council accepted the report “Transforming Forest Avenue,” the kind of comprehensive planning document that has not much behind it but good intentions.

It identified this part of Forest Avenue as “the heart of commercial, civic and other activity along the corridor” and predicted that “access to businesses would be the most important goal, so a priority would be to encourage easy travel between the many destinations by maximizing pedestrian, bicycle and transit improvements.”

But in the 3½ years since that report was accepted, the council has not followed it up with changes to the zoning code that would direct development along those lines. So now a developer could knock down five buildings and replace them with a single business, surrounded by parking, that is readily accessible only to people who get there by car.

That may be the right kind of development in other parts of the city. It might even be the right kind of development in other parts of Forest Avenue. But it would be a waste for this site. If the city lets this opportunity slip through its fingers, the chance to do something important will be gone for generations.

The City Council doesn’t have to let that happen; it still has time to change the zoning.

No plans have been presented at City Hall, so no “substantive review” has begun. Until that point, zoning can be rewritten.

One approach discussed in the Forest Avenue study is a form-based code, which regulates how buildings look, not their uses. That means you could still build a CVS at the location, but the city could require it to be part of an urban street, built out to the sidewalk with parking in the rear, resulting in a development as easily accessed by people on foot as it is by those in cars. It could also set minimum height requirements, which would create much-needed space for housing.

It’s the kind of development recommended by Richard Barringer, professor emeritus of community planning and development at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service, who has called on Portland to look at the off-peninsula arteries such as Forest Avenue as the best place to grow. Added density along public transit lines would contribute to the housing supply and get people out of their cars, reducing traffic on an important way into town for commuters from the west.

A suburban-style pharmacy in this location blows that vision out of the water.

There have been some dissenting voices about the CVS proposal. Portland Buy Local published a column in the Press Herald (Jan. 16) in defense of the three small business that would be dislocated. The oldest buildings on the lot are under review for their historic status, and while they may not look like much, they are old. They must have some history that needs preserving.

Is there a mass movement brewing? (“Save Forest Gardens!”) If there is, sign me up.

When it comes to this spot, Portland can’t afford to go small.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter @gregkesich

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.