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Proposed zoning changes aimed at York Beach revival

By JEN FISH, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

Monday, January 30, 2006 YORK, MAINE- YORK — The outside of the The Atlantic House is all peeling gray paint. Pieces of tarp that cover broken windows flap in the wind, and a yellow tube runs down the side of the building to help contractors remove trash and debris from the upper floors. The dilapidated mess is an unlikely symbol of the effort to revitalize York Beach, but those trying to bring new life to the area say the Atlantic House is a prime example of what the beach has become and what it could be in the future.

Developer Don Rivers wants to transform the 19th-century building into an upscale restaurant and shops, topped by two floors of condominiums. But zoning laws at the beach have delayed his plans for more than two years, including one year when he successfully petitioned for a change to the town's parking ordinance.

The difficulties of building at the beach have made positive changes there virtually impossible, says a group of business owners and residents who have been working for two years on a master plan to revitalize the area.

To remedy that problem, the York Beach Renaissance Committee has proposed a series of zoning changes as the first steps of that plan. The changes will be discussed at a public hearing at 7 tonight at the York Library.

The committee proposes establishing two new zoning districts: the York Beach Village Center Zone and the York Beach Village Center Transition Zone, with the first covering the downtown area.

A variety of businesses that are now prohibited - campgrounds, outdoor sports and amusement facilities and gas stations, for example - would be allowed in either one or both of the proposed zones.

Some of the new regulations would reduce the minimum lot size for development from 12,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet, eliminate front yard setbacks and allow developers to cover up to 100 percent of their lots.

The Village Center Zone also would allow buildings to be up to 50 feet tall. Current regulations limit height to 35 feet.

The panel also recommends eliminating the parking space requirements in the York Beach Village Center Zone. While York Beach has traffic flow problems, said committee members, there is enough parking.

There are just a few weekends out of the year where the parking facilities at the beach are maxed out, said Dawn Fernald, chairwoman of the committee.

Fernald said the committee hopes for a good turnout at tonight's public hearing. "We want public input on how do we change the beach in order to promote development . . . and attract more people," she said.

There is hope that at some point, she said, there will be more year-round businesses at York Beach.

Cathy Goodwin, president of the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce and a committee member, said the vision the committee hopes to promote is one of a walkable downtown with "the old charm of York Beach."

Rivers, who is also active with the committee, said he too wants York Beach to return to its glory days, when it was a major tourist attraction along the coast.

"It's very hard," Rivers said of the Atlantic House. "It's also been very expensive, but it will be beautiful when it's finished."

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