City councilors who criticized the appearance of the initial proposal expressed support for a new, office-like building in place of standalone units with garage-style doors in the former Kmart parking lot on Western Ave.
Augusta councilors are considering a revised proposal to turn the vacant former Kmart space on Western Avenue into a self-storage facility and eventually construct a three-story structure on part of the parking lot to house additional storage units. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal
AUGUSTA — A revised plan to start a large self-storage business at the former Kmart site on Western Avenue that initially drew criticism from councilors for what they said were unsightly and highly visible garage-style units is now drawing praise from those same councilors.
Councilors could vote Thursday to approve a zone change required for the proposal to move forward.
The would-be developer of the site, in response to parts of the proposal being panned by city councilors last month, came back with a revised plan last week. The new plan replaces a series of standalone single-story buildings with exterior garage doors proposed to be built in the parking lot of the vacant former Kmart site on Western Avenue with a three-story, much more conventional-looking building that would house the storage units.
“We developed this concept based on the comments we received — we’re hoping this is better-suited for the site,” said Chris Belanger, who told city councilors June 9 he was working for both the owner of the site, Augusta Plaza, and the developer of the project, Patriot Holdings.
Belanger said because the new building would contain the storage units inside, a security fence that would have surrounded the garage-style units shouldn’t be needed.
Several councilors, most of whom had criticized the buildings to be built in the parking lot in the original proposal, said the revised proposal is much nicer and is something they could support.
“I have heard from several constituents about their concern about having those single-story buildings on Western Avenue,” said Ward 3 Councilor Mike Michaud. “I think this (revised) concept makes it look like sort of an office building, which I think is a little more aesthetically pleasing. They did an about-face in a pretty short amount of time, and I personally think they’ve come up with a good, solid plan … to make it into a building that certainly fits better on Western Avenue than those buildings with the garage doors.”
Last year city councilors approved a zoning ordinance change to allow storage businesses as conditional uses in some commercial zoning districts along Western Avenue, where they weren’t previously allowed, including the area around the Turnpike Mall and Augusta Crossing shopping centers.
An aerial view of a proposed three-story storage facility that would be built on part of the parking lot of the former Kmart on Western Avenue in Augusta. Councilors favored the proposal over a plan to place standalone storage units with garage-style doors and security fencing in the parking lot and will vote on a zoning change to allow the project to advance this week. Courtesy of Gawron Turgeon Architects
But the Kmart site is in a different zone, where storage businesses are not currently allowed, so the Las Vegas-based developers are seeking a contract zone agreement with the city to allow their storage business to locate at the site. Patriot Holdings operates about 45 self-storage facilities called All-Purpose Storage throughout New England, according to Brandon Mitchell of Malone Commercial Brokers, who represented the company in the previous meeting with councilors. The company sees the potential for growth in Augusta and elsewhere in Maine, where it also has self-storage projects in development in Buxton, Fairfield, Belgrade, Brewer and Warren.
Councilors are scheduled to consider approving that contract zone agreement to allow a self-storage business at the site at their meeting Thursday. Mayor Mark O’Brien said councilors could vote to waive a normally required second reading of the proposal Thursday, to allow it to move forward in 30 days from that vote, which is the time period required for such zoning changes to take effect. Otherwise the developer would have to wait for two separate readings at two different council meetings, for the contract zone agreement to be approved before the project could be submitted to the Augusta Planning Board for consideration.
The project itself will still require Planning Board approval, which will include a public hearing and review of the site plan, as the council vote would only allow a self-storage business to locate there and would not approve the specific project.
City officials and the developer said Augusta needs more storage units and the concept of putting them at the Kmart site seemed like a good reuse of the property.
The project will start by converting the existing 95,000-square-foot Kmart building into climate-controlled storage units. Belanger said when those units are developed and occupied in the existing building, and when demand requires it, the additional building would be constructed on part of the former Kmart’s parking lot.
The rest of the strip mall would remain as retail space.
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