Augusta councilors have once again rejected a proposal to turn the former Kmart on Western Avenue in Augusta, seen in May 2022, into a self-storage facility. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — In a split vote, city councilors have once again rejected a much-revised proposal to convert the long-vacant former Kmart building into a self-storage business, spurning a developer’s plan to invest $9 million in a neglected but prominent Western Avenue shopping center.

Councilors on Thursday night shot down the latest effort of Las Vegas-based Patriot Holdings to initiate the process of changing the zoning of the Western Avenue site, where self-storage businesses are not currently allowed. In the 3-to-5 vote, councilors rejected a request to send the matter to the Planning Board to make a recommendation on a proposed contract zone that would allow self-storage as a commercial use at the site.

Councilors who spoke and voted against the latest proposal noted the council had already rejected the proposal multiple times, so asking the Planning Board to review it again and send it back would be a waste of time. Neighbors have told councilors that a self-storage business is not what they want to see at such a prominent spot in their neighborhood.

And they said a storage business isn’t likely to bring more than a couple of jobs with it.

“I appreciate the ways you’ve been willing to adjust the plan, but at the heart of the plan is a storage facility, and what I hear from constituents … is storage was the thing that was not wanted at that site,” said At-Large Councilor Stephanie Sienkiewicz, who was elected in November and just started her council term earlier this month.

Sienkiewicz said she lives in the Western Avenue neighborhood and followed the council’s previous consideration of the proposal. “I’ve also read emails from people who live in the neighborhood, concerned this is not the direction they want their neighborhood to move in,” she said.


The latest plan of developer Tim Wilkins, a founder and owner of Patriot Holdings, was to buy not just the Kmart portion of the Augusta Plaza shopping center, but also all the storefronts next to it, including the current location of a laundromat at the opposite end of the strip of storefronts and invest in renovating those sites as well. He said if councilors approved of the plan they’d buy much of the property and invest a total of $9 million, converting the former Kmart retail site into climate-controlled self-storage, renovating the other spots for potential use by commercial tenants, and adding lighting throughout the property to improve security.

“I understand storage facilities won’t bring jobs to that location, but we’re going to revitalize the whole center,” Wilkins said. “And we’re hoping to bring in a lot of new businesses with the upgrades we’re going to be doing. We have about $9 million in capital expenditures planned, including building out the storage. We’re hoping doing the facelift and really making it a nice new center will bring new businesses, which will bring more jobs to the area. We’re also hoping this kind of kickstarts the whole revitalization of Western (Avenue) in both directions. That’s why we like the project and we like the business model we have.”

They also planned to convert much of the current parking lot area in front of the former Kmart building into park-like greenspace, with benches, and install a covered bus stop in front of the location.

Wilkins said the company would not purchase the site if the city won’t change the zoning allowing for the development.

Ward 3 Councilor Mike Michaud, who voted to send the proposal to the Planning Board, said the changes made by the developer were enough that he thought the city should look at it as a brand new plan. He said no one seemed to express opposition to the plan at a neighborhood meeting the developer held recently, at which the developer listened to the concerns of residents.

Michaud said he’s seen other self-storage businesses located in prominent urban settings elsewhere, including in Portland, which he said fit into those sites. Were it not for the business’ sign, those facilities wouldn’t be recognizable as a storage business, he said.

“A $9 million repurpose to a building that has been vacant for several years would benefit the city,” Michaud said.

Other councilors said the site, which sits in close proximity to the state Capitol complex, could be put to a better use, such as housing.

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