AUGUSTA — State officials are likely to consider whether to remove a prominent Capitol Street property from the jurisdiction of a state commission after a developer who had proposed building a hotel, restaurant, convenience store and drugstore on the site let his option to buy the property expire.

The state Department of Transportation has relocated the vehicle maintenance work that used to take place at the big green-and-white collection of industrial-looking buildings to a new facility at 66 Industrial Drive in north Augusta. It is looking to sell the 109 Capitol St. property, which housed transportation maintenance operations for decades.

It is just up the hill from the State House and, for now at least, within the Capitol Planning District, which gives the Capitol Planning Commission the authority to regulate what could be built there to take its place.

Commission members learned Tuesday that Gov. Paul LePage plans to seek legislation, which Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said he would sponsor, to remove that parcel from the commission’s jurisdiction, which would leave development of the property regulated only by the city’s zoning rules and Planning Board.

A Lewiston developer who, according to commission meeting minutes, wanted to place a hotel, restaurant, convenience store and drugstore on the 9-acre property approached the commission late last year to find out whether the property could be removed from the Capitol Planning District. Commission members said at the time they weren’t sure and would look into it.

Since then the would-be developer, George Schott, who has an extended-stay hotel under construction on Western Avenue in Augusta, let his option on the Capitol Street property expire, according to Dale Doughty, director of the DOT’s Bureau of Maintenance and Operations.

“His option expired. He allowed it to expire,” Doughty said. “There was a proposal on the table, but that proposal has lapsed. The property is on the market and it is currently open and available.”

While Doughty did not say Schott pulled out because of potentially having to get the approval of both the Capitol Planning Commission and the Augusta Planning Board for the same project, he did say state officials recognize having multiple entities involved makes it more challenging to develop the site.

“Having two masters makes it more complicated,” he said.

Schott could not be reached for comment.

Ward 3 City Councilor Patrick Paradis and At-Large Councilor Cecil Munson, who are both members of the Capitol Planning Commission, expressed concern that if the state gives up authority over what could be built on the property, it could open up the possibility of some unsightly or otherwise undesirable commercial development there.

“Cecil and I voted to allow the DOT to move where they are now,” Paradis said at Tuesday’s commission meeting. “We had no problem with that. It was a good move. But it seems so radical to want to remove the jurisdiction many fought for so long to preserve here. Whoever redevelops that site will have a clear view over that whole area, and we’ll be looking back at them. Once it’s undone, the horse is out of the barn forever.”

Katz said he agreed to sponsor the legislation because he and members of LePage’s administration think the property doesn’t fit in with the rest of the Capitol Planning District, and the city should have regulatory authority over the property through its zoning laws.

“It was only in the district because it’s a state facility. If it’s sold to a private developer, it doesn’t fit with the district,” Katz said. “The regulation of that property, and its uses, would then more properly fall where it belongs, with the city of Augusta.”

He said not having to seek Capitol Planning Commission approval for a new use at the site would be “one less hurdle to overcome.”

Doughty noted the area is in a zone in which a gas station would not be allowed, but it is within the city’s Business Professional District.

Munson said he expects a developer who buys the property to ask the city to rezone it to allow more commercial development, specifically seeking to have the parcel added to the Local Business District zone, which is now in place on Western Avenue.

“If that’s zoned as a business zone, there’s nothing the city could do to stop a gas station or whatever from being put there,” Munson said. “It’d be right there, in the shadow of the State House.”

Katz noted any zone change would be subject to the Augusta City Council’s approval.

Doughty said such a large property becoming available so close to the State House complex is rare, and he believes market forces will result in something other than a gas station being built there.

Both Katz and Paradis said they think a hotel would be an excellent new use for the property.

Katz and Earle Shettleworth, chairman of the Capitol Planning Commission, said such a hotel could hearken back to the days of the Augusta House, a hotel and gathering spot that stood on State Street next to Memorial Circle — near the State House — and was frequented by many legislators and lobbyists until it was demolished in 1974.

The former DOT property is listed for sale for $1.65 million.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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