GARDINER — A zoning change that would allow reuse of old vacant buildings in certain areas didn’t make it past the Planning Board, but may still be mulled by city officials during a two-year community planning process.

A proposal to change the zone on several older buildings along Church Street from high density residential to professional residential will be studied with help from a $100,000 Orton Family Foundation Heart & Soul grant.

Critics fear such changes could ruin the character of area neighborhoods and the Planning Board last week couldn’t agree on the change.

Nate Rudy, the city’s economic developer, said the Kennebec Local Food Initiative wanted to move into the former United Congregational Church at 46 Church St., using the space for its operations but also providing cooking classes and space for farmers’ markets and retail.

Rudy said a zoning change would allow for such ventures, as well as home occupations, catering services and meeting and office spaces.

He said that many of the uses aren’t allowed under the high density residential zoning in the area now and the intent is to expand professional residential zoning along Brunswick Avenue. He said it wouldn’t extend all the way to the city common, to preserve the common’s aesthetics.


City Manager Scott Morelli said while the specific proposal is dead, the issue will be discussed “in a larger context of zoning and building reuse through the Orton process and during our comprehensive planing discussions, so it will be revisited in some fashion later on down the road.”

Deborah Willis, chairman of the Planning Board, said the board couldn’t agree on the zone change — some members thought it would ruin the character of the neighborhood.

Residents William and Carol Ford, who attended a public hearing last week on the zoning proposal, said the city doesn’t need another business district.

“We’re concerned about noise,” Carol Ford said at the meeting. “We have a lot of lovely homes in that neighborhood and I think there are other places in the community for these businesses.”

Former councilman George Trask agreed. He said the city has plenty of open spaces downtown for new businesses, including a restaurant that recently closed. “I think we should remain the way we are,” Trask said.

Resident Jerry Maschino, who lives on Water Street, said he used to live on Brunswick Avenue in a Victorian home that was torn down and replaced with a gas station.


“It’s very hard for me to drive by it. I have to drive around it,” Maschino said. “I personally feel every time we give up property for commercial use, it falls a part. I just don’t think it should be done. As far as that church, I don’t know what will happen to it. I just don’t know. It makes me very nervous.”

Rudy said the city wants to preserve its neighborhoods, but needs to raise revenue. He said the zone change is just the type of thing that would attract people interested in buying and maintaining the city’s older buildings.

“If anything, changing the zone will increase the price of those buildings,” Rudy said. “I don’t get the sense it will affect property valuation. I feel there’s precedent here for this. The uses will be in line with the uses on Brunswick Avenue.”

Rudy said the city will look at short-term alternatives that could be helpful to the food initiative’s effort to have a building in Gardiner.

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

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