GARDINER — City councilors gave initial approval Wednesday night to a proposed ordinance that would allow some commercial uses in older, nonconforming buildings such as old schools and churches in residential districts.
Most people spoke in favor of the changes at the meeting, although a couple of residents had questions about the process and how it would affect various properties.
Deborah Willis, chairwoman of the Planning Board and Ordinance Review Committee, said in the past, developers haven’t been able to repurpose buildings no longer being used for their former uses because zoning rules wouldn’t allow new uses.
The proposed adaptive reuse overlay district would provide the city with a process for allowing building reuse on a case-by-case basis. It could be used only for buildings that are no longer economically viable or physically suitable for uses allowed in the districts in which they’re located.
Each site proposal still would be subject to Planning Board and council approval.
The Planning Board had approved the proposed adaptive reuse ordinance change at its meeting Tuesday, 4-1; and the Ordinance Review Committee unanimously approved the proposals at its April 28 meeting.
Councilors will hold the second public hearing and reading at their next meeting on May 28. If they approved the new ordinance then, it will go into effect 30 days after.
Finding a way to allow for the repurposing of older, nonconforming buildings in residential districts emerged as a city priority during a two-year community planning project completed at the start of the year. It’s included in the proposed comprehensive plan, which is expected to go in front of councilors next month.
Part of the reason for moving quickly on the policy change is that a hard-cider brewery business is looking to open in the former Gardiner Congregational Church on Church Street, but the current zoning rules don’t allow it.
The owner of Lost Orchard Brewing Co., David Boucher, of New Harbor, said after the April committee member that he was hoping to open the cidery in the church by the Fourth of July.
He said he and his girlfriend, Kristina Nugent, already have signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with the church, but they can withdraw from it if the city doesn’t approve the proposed use.
Boucher said he wants to operate in Gardiner and to be able to preserve the building, but he said they have another building in Bristol Mills lined up if the Congregational church doesn’t work out.
The proposed changes would apply only to buildings built for nonresidential uses in the high-density residential zone. It limits the allowed reuse to about a dozen options including banks, restaurants, retailers, light manufacturing, research facilities, funeral homes and artist studios.
Councilors at the start of the meeting approved a proposal from Gardiner Main Street to allow a beer tent at the Waterfront Park during an annual summer festival.
The original proposal called for it to be open until 1 a.m., but because of concerns from some councilors, they approved it to be opened until midnight. The proposal still is subject to approval by the Rotary Club of Gardiner, one of the event organizers.
Tim Connelly, owner of the Kennebec Wharf in Hallowell, would be operating the beer tent.
The council also approved an events permit for the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center to hold three free outdoor concerts during the summer at the Waterfront Park. The first show, by the Colwell Brothers, will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
The council was expected to review a handful of other land use ordinances, including updated rules for various types of signs in the downtown and sidewalk eateries.
The council also continued discussions on the proposed city budget, which, when including the expected school and county budgets, would raise taxes nearly 8 percent.
Councilors tabled a discussion with a developer of a Partridge Road property about how a house under construction will be fixed to match the style of the other homes in the neighborhood.