The City Council has approved changes that officials say gives downtown Westbrook greater potential for growth. Chance Viles / American Journal

WESTBROOK — New rule changes may have a big impact on the city’s downtown. Officials say this may significantly increase the potential for downtown residences by making it easier for more businesses to expand upward.

The changes were approved unanimously by the City Council last week, which hopes that, as a result, outdated buildings will be replaced while others are allowed additional stories that include living space.

“This can be huge — our ability to expand downtown north and south is really limited by residential buildings and the river,” City Administrator Jerre Bryant said.

It’s easier to grow downtown itself as opposed to building large condominium developments away from the city’s core, he said.

Previously, the city allowed a downtown building to have one residential unit per 1,500 square feet as long as there was a business on the first floor.  Now a building with first-floor commercial space is allowed one unit per 500 square feet, which is negotiable if a developer were to build more than four stories.

Bryant said that more residential units are in a building, the more profitable it is for developers. The changes also could be a draw for new businesses, as new buildings in the downtown district will still require some sort of commercial aspect on the first floor, such as a storefront or office.

Mayor Mike Foley said the changes could turn the area into “an 18- to 24-hour downtown.”

Businesses will likely see a boost in sales with a consistent population of people in the area that stay after the people “working in Westbrook go home,” Bryant said.

“(The) downtown already has the infrastructure,” Bryant said. “There are bus lines, restaurants and services and all of the other things that you need when building housing.”

“I’ve lived here since 1955. Westbrook back then was a different place with more housing downtown, but a lot was substandard,” said Andrew Broaddus, who has law offices at 706 Main St. “What I like about this proposal is it provides more housing and giving the codes today, it’s better housing. The one component missing downtown is more housing downtown.”

Foley said more housing downtown “also allows us to really help out with that regional housing crunch.”

Tom Dore, a Westbrook, owner of Atlantic Transport Systems off Warren Avenue, said the changes will give owners incentives to enhance their properties.

“If you have to put a ton of money to rehab or build something and can’t have enough apartments with rent to cover taxes and maintenance, then a lot of these buildings stay in disrepair or don’t get done at all,” said city Economic Development Coordinator Dan Stevenson.

The city has also expanded the downtown housing areas along Main Street from Spring Street to Cumberland Circle, effectively expanding the borders of what has been considered downtown.

 

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