The Portland Planning Board voted 6-1 Tuesday to prohibit a suburban-style pharmacy with a drive-though window from being built on Forest Avenue near Back Cove.

The board’s vote in favor of rezoning several parcels of land between Forest Avenue, Preble Street Extension and Baxter Boulevard is a strong recommendation to the City Council, which will have the final say on any zoning change. The action comes after an attorney representing CVS sought a permit to demolish five buildings, including Forest Gardens, a long-time watering hole and community gathering spot.

Palmer Springs Co., which is looking to sell its land, and the developer for CVS testified against the rezoning, according to City Planning Director Stuart “Tuck” O’Brien. Opponents expressed concerns that the new zoning would make redeveloping the site more difficult, and questioned the timing of the proposal.

“The board emphasized that they were responding to a request from (the) council on the specific issue of whether a potential re-zone was beneficial from a land use planning perspective and whether it would it be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan,” O’Brien said.

Since the CVS proposal was made public in January, area residents, local business groups and smart growth advocates expressed dismay that a national chain pharmacy with a large parking lot could be built along Forest Avenue.

The City Council had already rezoned much of Forest Avenue, from Interstate 295 to Woodford Corner, to encourage high-density, mixed-use developments with fewer parking requirements along the transportation corridor. But that action did not include the parcels eyed for a new CVS.

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The CVS proposal prompted City Councilor Belinda Ray to suggest rezoning the area from a residential zone to a community business zone that prohibits drive-through windows – a standard feature at new CVS stores – and requires buildings to be built closer to the road. It’s unclear when the full council will take up the board’s positive recommendation.

The rezoning proposal would not prevent Forest Gardens from being torn down – it would simply change the type of building that could be built in its place. But the board’s action is considered a positive development for the patrons of Forest Gardens, who have waged a public campaign to save the 80-year-old business from the wrecking ball.

Patrons received a glimmer of hope last month when the city’s Historic Preservation Board voted to designate the building at 371-373 Forest Ave., which is home to Forest Gardens and David Munster’s TV Repair, and two other buildings – Palmer Spring Co. at 351-355 Forest Ave. and Creative Trails at 369 Forest Ave. – as eligible for protection under the city’s historic preservation ordinance. That step toward a historical designation prevent the buildings from being demolished, at least temporarily.

“The buildings cannot be demolished without an additional determination, but no formal nomination process to designate them as landmarks has begun,” O’Brien said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @randybillings


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