St. Mark’s Parish Hall, left, and church in Augusta are seen on June 24, 2018. New owner Adam Turner plans to convert much of the property into housing and the stone church into a community space. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan

AUGUSTA — City councilors approved a zoning change meant to help a new kind of conversion take place at the historic former St. Mark’s Episcopal Church building.

Councilors voted unanimously Thursday to create a contract zone with rules specific to the former church building that officials said are meant to help the new owner of the old church, Adam Turner, redevelop it as a community gathering space.

The changes include authorizing four uses at the church building, not otherwise allowed by the zoning of the surrounding neighborhood: Conference and event center; art studios and galleries; museums; and civic, social and fraternal organizations.

 

No on-site parking is required for those uses to take place in the former church building, an elaborately detailed Gothic revival, stone building built in 1884. Area residents have expressed concerns about parking in the area being scarce and motorists parking in the Lithgow Public Library parking lot who are doing things in the neighborhood other than going to the library.

Mayor David Rollins, who has said previously that perhaps property owners can work together to address solutions to the parking problem in the neighborhood, noted the contract zone and its provision not requiring on-site parking applies only to events held in the former church building itself, not in the former church’s adjacent parish hall. Turner has converted that building into apartments he hopes will provide revenue to help pay for needed restoration and preservation work at the church building.

Turner said he will direct attendees of events at the church to not park in the Lithgow lot, which is across the street from the church, and encourage them to park  in a city parking garage — down the hill off Dickman Street, just above the downtown area — and to walk to events at the church building.

The ordinance creating the contract zone for the site notes “the re-use and preservation of the historic St. Mark’s Church is important to the historic fabric of the West Side Neighborhood and that National Historic District.”

Councilors also approved unrelated zoning changes Thursday meant to protect the character of the Winthrop Street neighborhood, allow small bakeries, breweries and distilleries in more areas of the city, and allow medical marijuana to be sold in the Industrial zoning district.

The changes would allow small distilleries, breweries and bakeries in a zone encompassing much of the commercial area near exit 109 off Interstate 95, including the Turnpike Mall and Augusta Crossing areas.

That alteration would follow a change approved by councilors in October 2018 allowing distilleries, breweries and bakeries to locate in a zone encompassing the retail center Marketplace at Augusta.

The Augusta Planning Board and city staff recommend adding those uses as permitted in the Regional Business, or CC, zoning district, in part, according to a city memo, because that zoning district already allows similar uses.

Another zoning change would create a new Westside Professional District, extending one block in both directions off part of Winthrop Street, between Pleasant and Chestnut streets.

Rollins said the uses allowed in the new district, which include a mix of residential with business and professional offices and services, are more compatible with the character of the neighborhood.

The new zone was proposed after concerns were raised by neighbors opposed to a proposal, which did not win planning board approval, to move Blue Willow Counseling services to a property at the corner of Winthrop and North Chestnut streets.

The fourth zoning-related proposal, approved unanimously by councilors Thursday, will allow medical marijuana caregiver retail stores as a conditional use in the city’s industrial zoning district.


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