GARDINER — Teresa Zardus said before she knew it was a parish rectory, she wondered who lived in the Tudor-style, granite and wood building next to the Gardiner Common.
Several years later, when she began considering locations to open a massage and wellness spa, she saw the St. Joseph Church’s rectory building was for sale.
“It really called to me,” Zardus said.
Zardus, 43, and her husband, Derek Zardus, bought the property that’s bordered by three streets in August of last year for $207,000, according to city records, although her business was approved by the city at the end of 2012. It opened in January.
Zardus’ spa, along with a bed-and-breakfast set to open in a former church in June, are examples of what the city would like to see happen to older, vacant or underused buildings whose original uses have passed. They’re examples of nonconforming buildings — structures that couldn’t be built now for their original uses because they’re located in residential neighborhoods or other zones that don’t allow the former uses.
As part of a comprehensive plan recently completed in draft form, city officials hope to give more flexibility to developers or business owners looking to revive nonconforming buildings through adaptive reuse. The draft plan suggests providing a way to allow the creative reuse of nonconforming buildings, but it doesn’t spell out exactly how that would be done.
“We just want to be ready for anything that might come up along the line,” said Nate Rudy, director of economic and community development for the city.
There’s already another business owner hoping for a change soon.
David Boucher, of New Harbor, is seeking to open a hard cider brewery in the former Gardiner Congregational Church on Church Street.
However, the property is in a residential zone that doesn’t allow most commercial uses.
Boucher said he and Kristina Nugent signed a purchase and sale agreement for the 170-year-old church, but they can withdraw from it if the city doesn’t consider changes to allow the new use. He’s been working with Rudy and other city and downtown officials while monitoring the progress of the comprehensive plan, he said.
A major part of the comprehensive plan is suggested changes to the zoning map, which is what allows certain uses in designated zones.
The city is holding an informal public meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall about the comprehensive plan and the possible impact of suggested zoning changes.
A goal of the zone changes suggested is to provide better transition between the zones, like from industrial use on outer Brunswick Avenue to residential neighborhoods near the Common, said Patricia Hart, a councilor and chairwoman of the comprehensive plan committee.
Older, nonconforming buildings can create different challenges and higher costs for developers and business owners, and their location can limit what type of use is allowed. It can be more costly to renovate an old building than build a new one, Rudy said, but the downside of constructing a new building in its place is that the historical structure and its character and architecture are lost.
Similar to Zardus feeling that the parish rectory called to her, Shawn Dolley, the owner of The Stone Turret, said he fell in love with the former Christian Science church on Lincoln Avenue.
Dolley bought the century-old church for $42,500 early last year. Following more than $100,000 worth of renovations, Dolley plans to open a bed-and-breakfast in June.
“I saw a building that was reaching out to me and asking for some help,” he said.
Dolley renovated the building, which had formerly been converted into apartments, into a five-room inn with two rented apartments in the back and an apartment for himself. He’s hosting an open house June 6.
Dolley said the branding of the bed-and-breakfast will highlight the history of the building and the city, and each room will have an historic theme.
Like Dolley, Zardus lives in the building of her business, along with her husband. Zardus, who previously rented space at Visage Salon & Day Spa in downtown Augusta, offers a variety of massage and wellness services, but she has plans to add steam showers and a sauna to the building.
Zardus said she also plans to host yoga classes and allow groups to use the space for community events. She’s hosting an open house at the spa May 17.
She and her husband looked at other possible locations for her business, Zardus Art of Massage & Wellness Spa, but Zardus said she wanted a place that felt more cozy than sterile and had the room to accommodate her future plans for the space.
“We just didn’t find anything to compare with what we were trying to do,” she said.
Boucher said he considered a few other locations for his cider brewery, including Damariscotta, Richmond and Portland, but he was drawn to the former church, as well as the Gardiner community. By converting the church to a cider brewery, he hopes to restore the church to its former condition and prevent it from further deteriorating.
“We wanted to find a building that had just the right charm to it. It has to have a lot of character and feel to it that would carry us forward,” Boucher said. “And we wanted to move into a town that wanted to go in the same direction as us.”