MET zoning change proposal changes

By Susan Mustapich | Aug 10, 2018
Source: File photo Allowing some commercial activity in part of the MET school building after it is vacated by students in 2020 requires a zoning change and public vote in Camden.

CAMDEN — The School Administrative District 28 has withdrawn a request to change the zoning of its Knowlton Street property from traditional village to neighborhood business in order to allow repurposing of the lower level of the Mary E. Taylor building.

Instead, a new proposal is being developed, Jeremy Martin, Camden planning and development director, said Aug. 13. The new proposal would not require a zone change, but would allow some types of commercial activity, by special exception, in the ground floor or basement of the MET building, according to Martin.

Allowing new uses in the MET building in 2020, when the building is vacated and students begin classes in the new Camden Rockport Middle School building, has been the focus of discussion by community members and the SAD 28 MET Repurposing Committee. However, small-scale commercial activity is not allowed in the traditional village district where the MET building is located.

On Aug. 2, the Planning Board discussed two SAD 28 proposals focusing on MET. Bob Lawson, chairman of the MET Repurposing Committee represented SAD 28 at the meeting.

One proposal was to rezone SAD 28's 15-acre property on Knowlton Street to B4 or the neighborhood service zone, which permits commercial activity such as financial services, and allows professional offices and health services facilities by special exception. This commercial activity is not permitted in the traditional village district. B4 zoning "is meant to accommodate limited business uses in areas that are residential in character," according to Camden's zoning ordinance.

The second proposal was to increase the height of public school structures in the neighborhood business district from 30 to 38 feet. This proposal would formally allow the actual height of the MET building, built in 1921, which exceeds the allowed 30 foot height limit in the traditional village zone. B4 also has a 30 foot height limit.

During a public comment period on Aug. 2, Lowrie Sargent pointed out that the proposed zone change would include the entirely of SAD 28's Knowlton Street property, which covers 15 acres. He said this would be a significant zoning change and called for the Planning Board to proceed cautiously and consider unintended consequences. He pointed out that with this zoning change, any school building on the property could be built to 38 feet, including the current administration building on Lions Lane, known as the bus barn. Sargent is a former Planning Board member and chairman.

Martin explained Aug. 13 that the new zoning proposal would allow some business uses, allowed by special exception in the B4 district, to be added to the traditional village district, also as special exceptions. These new uses, "professional offices and health services," would be allowed by special exception in the traditional village district, in buildings that are "publicly-owned public schools as of 2018," he said.



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