PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — City councilors have decided to hold two public hearings over the next few weeks to receive public comment and consider adopting a 180-day moratorium on the creation of new dwelling units with street frontage on the first floors of buildings located within a portion of the downtown.
The zone in question is bounded on the north by Blake Street and on the south by Maple Street.
City Manager Jim Bennett said recently that the issue was brought to the council after “there were issues with vacant storefronts being turned into apartments.”
According to city officials, planning board members and staff have heard complaints about negative effects associated with first-floor office and retail spaces being converted to apartments downtown.
While some complaints have been lodged about the behavior of certain tenants, according to City Planner Jamie Francomano, others have expressed fear that allowing these storefronts to be turned into apartments could harm business in the area. Some fear that if more vacant storefronts are turned into apartments, there will be less space for businesses to move into the area.
“What we are looking to do is give the planning board more time to address this situation through zoning,” Francomano said Monday.
At this point, the section in question is a rural business zone. According to city documents, regulations for the zone allow one- and two-family residential uses for the properties in that area, but the rules make no distinction between the ground-floor potential storefront area and the rest of the building.
Francomano said planning officials are considering their options to create a downtown that has a good mix of retail, residential and business sections. He said one option the planning board is considering is making it more difficult to convert ground-floor storefront space for residential use, possibly requiring owners to apply to the zoning board of appeals for a special exception.
He added that comment on the project also has been received from the design subcommittee of the Presque Isle Downtown Revitalization Committee. The committee, according to Francomano, has found that each additional retail or office use in the downtown contributes noticeably to the foot traffic going to the other busi-nesses.
The first City Council public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, April 19. The second will take place at 6 p.m. Monday, May 3. Both hearings will be held at City Hall.