2015-10-09 / Front Page

Redevelopment plan for Toppa the Hill Plaza approved

Site would become new Comfort Keepers office
By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

The planning board this week approved a plan by Comfort Keepers to renovate a retail building at 253 Route 1 in Scarborough into new office space. The plan would include a building and parking expansion. (Michael kelley photo) The planning board this week approved a plan by Comfort Keepers to renovate a retail building at 253 Route 1 in Scarborough into new office space. The plan would include a building and parking expansion. (Michael kelley photo) The towering sign at 253 Route 1 has stood for years advertising the businesses in Toppa the Hill Plaza, but that very sign could be a sticking point in the design of future redevelopment of the property.

The building had been home to Khiev’s Oriental Market; Jonathan Douglas Salon and Relaxation Studio; Nirvana Skin and Wellness Center and The Driving School, but Peter Violet, who has owned it since December, is planning on redeveloping the site as the new Scarborough office for Comfort Keepers.

Comfort Keepers is a nationally franchised company that provides in-home care for senior citizens and individuals with disability. Violet’s Comfort Keepers services Kittery to Freeport.

Violet received the go-ahead from the planning board Monday, Oct. 5 to add a 1,100-square-foot addition to the existing 4,600-square-foot building and double the amount of parking on the site.

Mike Tadema-Wiedlandt, of Terradyn Consultants, said the plan is to use the addition and extra parking to accommodate the staff that would be coming two or three times a month for training. A portion of the expanded building will be leased out. Violet said he has had conversations about leasing the space to an individual who runs an Internet-based business.

Violet said the leases for the market, salon, wellness center and driving school ended in September.

Jonathan Douglas Salon and Relaxation Studio and Nirvana Skin and Wellness Center have since moved to 118 Maine Mall Road in South Portland and The Driving School is now at the Oak Hill Plaza at 27 Gorham Road.

While the planning board unanimously approved the plan, planning board member Mike Wood was concerned about pedestrian traffic from the back parking lot to the front of the building and requested some pavement striping to guide pedestrians along the way. Other concerns were traffic impact, parking and the design of the sign out front.

“To leave it the way it is, is not acceptable for me,” said planning board member Ron Mazer.

Tadema-Wiedlandt said the sign will be improved, but Violet intends to keep the existing post for signage.

The planning board also approved a plan by Maine Family Eye Care Center to rehabilitate and relocate from by Clarks Pond in South Portland to 370 Route 1. The eye car center, which has been in business for 25 years, will occupy the bulk of the building, which houses Cliff’s Antique Market. The rest of the building will be leased out to an undetermined tenant.

While the internal traffic flow has been improved since the formal application before the planning board in mid- September, there was some question this week if the design of the building fits in with the area.

Kevin Downing, a landscape architect with Gawron-Turgeon, said the design of the building is in character with several other buildings in the area, including an office building at 383 Route 1 and the Tim Hortons restaurant on the corner of Route 1 and Lincoln Avenue.

He said while the design may not totally meet “the letter of the law” in terms of design standards, it meets “the spirit” of the guidelines.

Susan Auglis, second alternate on the board, wasn’t able to make the meeting, but indicated in an e-mail that was read into the record she was “uncomfortable” with the architectural design of the building. She suggested a peer review of the aesthetics.

“We need to do our job as planners and not let a rehab put us in a possible situation where we hear ‘if they can do it, so can I,” she wrote.

Planning board Chairman Corey Fellows said he was satisfied with the architecture.

“I keep reminding myself what we are starting with,” he said of the building, which has fallen into disrepair.

“Not only does it make an improvement, it does fit in along Route 1 in a positive way,” added Fellows, who is not concerned with setting a precedent.

Wood said the applicant worked hard to meet the intent of the design standards.

“I think you definitely made the best of the situation you were handed and I applaud the effort,” planning board member Nick McGee told Downing and Jason Vafiades, of Vafiades Engineering and Design, who also helped with the design of the project.

First alternate Roger Beeley called the plan a vast improvement over existing conditions. He said for years he wondered what would go into the property due to the space constraints on the site.

Downing said he expects work on the project will begin this fall.

Another project the board approved Monday that could start soon is a four-unit subdivision at 5 West Beech Ridge Road for members of the Bell family.

The subdivision would be located on more than 10 acres of land owned by the Arthur R. Bell Living Trust and Dorothy B. Bell Living Trust, more than half of which will remain open space.

Lee Allen, of Northeast Civil Solutions, said a section of the open space has historically been hayed once or twice a year, something the Bell family would like to continue to do. McGee asked who would benefit from the haying operation.

“The field has been mowed every year, sometimes twice a year. The benefit of the haying goes to the family because the family also raises animals,” said Bruce Bell, who lives next door to the subdivision site at 13 West Beech Ridge Road.

Board members had questions if the haying operation met the intent of a conservation subdivision design, which mandates 50 percent of the property must remain open space.

“It’s unusual for us to see open space as an active agricultural use. It’s not typical of most of the subdivisions we see,” Fellows said.

Senior Planner Jay Chace said per the Zoning Ordinance’s conservation subdivision design standards, open space can be used for agricultural purposes, passive uses —the most typical — or active recreation, such as playgrounds, ball fields, gardens, picnic areas or even golf courses.

The planning board meets next at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 26 at town hall.

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