SOUTH PORTLAND — The Planning Board approved the city’s first adult-use recreational marijuana retail project Wednesday night, including a last-minute condition to keep an eye out for Revolutionary War soldiers’ bones that might be buried on the site.

The board voted 5-0 to allow the SeaWeed Co. to build a 3,265-square-foot retail store at 185 Running Hill Road, which is next to Weight Watchers of Maine and across the road from the Target shopping plaza, near the Maine Mall.

The board imposed a condition stipulating that SeaWeed cannot sell marijuana until the state adopts laws for recreational use, which Maine voters approved in November 2016.

SeaWeed would have to be licensed to operate under state laws and municipal ordinances, which the city has already adopted. It’s unclear when the State House will pass laws for recreational retail shops and other adult-use marijuana businesses under sweeping legislative amendments passed last summer.

Scott Howard of Pownal, SeaWeed’s manager and principal, said he’s expecting state laws to be in place by late 2019 or early 2020. He plans to start building the store in March and be ready to open by the end of 2019.

The board also imposed a second condition requiring SeaWeed to follow state laws that protect historical burial grounds if one is found on the building site, said City Planner Steve Puleo.

The company will be expected to notify state and local historical officials about the project, and if evidence of a cemetery is found, to properly rebury the bones in another established cemetery, Puleo said.

The board acted on a concern raised by member Mary DeRose, a local historian, who said she believes Revolutionary War soldiers may have been buried on or near the planned construction site.

DeRose said she learned about the burial site in 2013, while doing research for her doctorate from the Muskie School of Public Policy at the University of Southern Maine. Her dissertation chronicled the impact of public policy on community landscapes, such as the old family farms that were replaced by the Maine Mall commercial area.

DeRose found two maps, from 1857 and 1871, that show two Skillin family cemeteries in that area of Running Hill Road. One is still there, visible along the curb near the entrance to the Target shopping plaza. The exact location of the other burial plot is unknown, but it appears on the maps to have been across Running Hill Road, in the vicinity of the SeaWeed site.

In the 1800s, when South Portland was part of Cape Elizabeth, the area near the intersection of Running Hill and Cummings roads was known as Skillin Hill or Wescott Hill, DeRose said. In later years it was called Pig Knoll because there were many pig farms in the area, she said.

Based on her research, DeRose believes the lost burial plot may have included the graves of Edward Skillin, who died in 1779, possibly during a smallpox outbreak; his wife, Sarah; and their son John, who fought and died in a Revolutionary War battle. William Wescott, a Revolutionary War veteran, also may have been buried there, DeRose said.

Howard said he first learned about the cemetery Wednesday night and doesn’t expect to uncover any graves during construction.

Most of the 4.3-acre property is covered by protected wetlands. The SeaWeed store will be built on a concrete slab, he said, on a 30,000-square-foot gravel-filled site that was a construction staging area for the Target shopping plaza 25 years ago.

“We’ll be building on top of that, so we won’t be getting down into native soil,” Howard said.

Still, Howard plans to put up a memorial plaque recognizing that there was a burial site nearby. “We want to be respectful,” he said.

DeRose said she didn’t want the potential discovery of a burial site to stop SeaWeed from building a store.

“It’s a beautiful design,” DeRose said. “But I do think these people need to be respected. A lot of history has been lost over the years as that area has been developed. It would be nice to remember and commemorate the people who lived there long ago.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

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