FREEPORT — The Staff Review Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a change of use for Freeport Crossing, a move the property managers hope will revitalize the now mostly vacant shopping center that greets visitors as they approach downtown from the south.

W/S Freeport Properties LLC – which manages all four properties that make up the center at 200 Lower Main St. – asked the town to allow business and professional office uses and/or retailers in all of the buildings.

The nearly 12-acre parcel at Exit 20 of Interstate 295 is assessed at $9.5 million. It is in the town’s Commercial 1 district, which is intended to provide for commercial uses at highway locations and create an attractive entrance to the town.

The Staff Review Board is responsible for reviewing change-of-use requests and includes Public Works Superintendent Earl Gibson, Town Planner Donna Larson, Town Engineer Adam Bliss, Code Enforcement Officer Nicholas Adams and Fire/Rescue Chief Charles Jordan.  

Office and retail space is already permitted in the district, but are subject to site review and town approval.

Permitted uses that don’t require review by the Staff Review Board are single- and two-family dwellings, agriculture, agritourism activity, timber harvesting and peddling on private property. 

Shaw’s supermarket occupies all of the plaza’s largest space, so-called Building No. 4, and is connected to Building No. 3 – part of which has a Dunkin’ Donuts. The rest of Building No. 3 is vacant, although a veterinary clinic is slated to open after the approved use change.

VeterinaryQuickCare offers routine care, urgent care and boarding for pets, and has locations in Portland and South Portland. According to its website, the plan is to open this spring. 

Building No. 1 and Building No. 2, which sit on the parcel of the plaza closest to I-295, are both vacant. Building No. 1 was most recently occupied by Carter’s children’s clothing store; Building No. 2 has been empty for “quite some time,” according to Planning Assistant Caroline Pelletier. 

Other retail stores that have come and gone are Olympia Sports, Kitchen Collection, and OshKosh B’gosh.

Development Manager Dan Hester said at capacity, he could imagine nine or 10 businesses, including Shaw’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, occupying Freeport Crossing.

Pritam Singh developed the 48,000-square-foot property, which was built in 1985. It received an award from the Maine Chapter of the American Institute of Architects for excellence in architectural design and development, and was meant to resemble New England barns when viewed from Interstate 295.

But the development also was met with concern from residents about its size.

Hester said the change-of-use request was meant to be a “blanket approval” to allow flexibility for office and retail uses, without requiring W/S or prospective tenants to come before the board each time they’d like to add a business or professional office or retail operation.

“This helps us get retailers and offices in faster and get them open for business faster,” Hester said. 

Uses such as restaurants, drive-throughs, service repair garages, and day-care facilities will still require individual board approval. 

Hester said he doesn’t think the process had barred businesses from leasing building space in the plaza. 

He said there has been a recent “uptick” in leasing interest, and W/S’s leasing staff has recently begun to focus on and advocate more for getting businesses into the shopping center. 

“This property is in such a prominent location with great access and visibility and the market is strong,” Hester said. “I think it’s been an underutilized property for quite some time, so I hope this helps.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Developers hope approval from Freeport for retail and/or business and professional office use for all of the buildings will help revitalize Freeport Crossing.