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PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland City Council on Monday night unanimously approved an amendment to a height ordinance that will allow a company to move forward with a $150 million, mixed-use development proposed for the Bayside neighborhood, an area between Interstate 295 and downtown Portland that the city has targeted for revitalization.
The Federated Cos., based in Miami, Fla., is proposing to build four residential towers and two parking garages, along with street-level retail space, on property now owned by the city that previously was scrapyards and empty lots. The project has three phases and could take up to a decade to complete, according to Greg Shinberg, owner of Shinberg Consulting and The Federated Cos.’ local representative on the project.
Most of the parcel is zoned to allow buildings up to 125 feet tall with conditional allowances to increase that height limit to 165 feet. However, a section of the parcel that would be developed in the company’s first phase is only zoned to allow buildings up to 105 feet in height.
Amending the zoning of that small area to match the zoning with the rest of the parcel is what the council approved last night, Shinberg said.
“I think [the council’s vote] was significant both in pushing the project to fruition and pushing their approval towards reality,” Shinberg said Tuesday morning. “I can’t speak for the owner. I don’t know if they would have backed out, but I believe they were seriously considering not moving forward without the vote last night.”
The first phase, which will cost roughly $38 million, consists of a 15- or 16-story residential tower with roughly 185 market-rate apartments, a parking garage with approximately 705 parking spaces, and roughly 40,000 square feet of street-level retail space on the corner of Somerset and Pearl streets, kitty-cornered to where Whole Foods is located, according to Shinberg.
The vision for the total project includes four residential towers with 675 market-rate apartments, two parking garages with 1,100 parking spaces, and 90,000 square feet of retail space, Shinberg said.
Some residents spoke in opposition to the project during Monday night’s council meeting.
Tim Paradis of Portland criticized the project for being “bloated in every way,” too car-centric and “anti-street life.” He also said the proposal would contribute to the “concrete canyonization we’re hurtling toward.” He said the City Council should walk away from this proposal.
“This is a vision that sells Portland short,” he said.
However, voices in support of the project — as a whole, and this amendment in particular — drowned out those in opposition.
Tom Manning, owner of the Miss Portland Diner on Marginal Way, which is near the proposed development’s site, spoke in favor of the project and urged the council to approve the requested amendment.
“I think the question before us tonight should not be, ‘Should we?’” Manning said, “but, ‘How could we not?’”
Manning said the proposed development addresses three of the major elements contained within the city’s comprehensive plan for Bayside: It redevelops the scrapyards, its market-rate apartments, which won’t have income limits or special requirements for renters will help diversify the available housing in the neighborhood, and it doesn’t rely on surface parking lots.
“We should not let this opportunity pass us by,” he said.
Michael Bourque, president of the Portland Community Chamber, also spoke in favor of the project. He warned the City Council about the fleeting nature of development and that there are certain windows in which development happens.
“We’re in one such window now,” he said. “I think it’s important to take advantage of that and take this opportunity to rejuvenate Bayside.”
Before voting, councilors took the opportunity to ask questions and share their reasons for why they’re supporting this project.
Kevin Donoghue, who represents the Bayside neighborhood, said he was supporting the project and the requested amendment because of its contribution to the larger vision for Bayside, including the diversification of housing options in the neighborhood and the city as a whole.
Echoing a comment from the public, he said, “This is the project we’ve been waiting for.”
“We’ve seen a lot of projects proposed for this land and this is by far the best,” he said. “The other ones were mostly dead uses. They weren’t self storage, but they weren’t very lively. This is the first one that has a central housing component; and housing is the predominant use in this development, but it satisfies so many aspects of the Bayside vision.”
Regarding the zoning ordinances and some public complaints that this change would be “spot zoning” — a legal term that Alex Jaegerman, director of the city’s planning division, explained would mean a zoning change that would benefit an individual and not be consistent with the comprehensive plan, but did not apply to this situation — Donoghue said he trusts the planning board, which recommended approval of the requested change.
“The question of whether the amendment is consistent with comprehensive plan is chiefly the job of the planning board,” he said. “I’m convinced of what they’ve been convinced of as an advisory body who we’ve appointed to spend more time with this then we could necessarily afford to.”
With the needed zone change, the company will now bring their plan back to the planning board for a full Level III site plan review, Shinberg said. Shinberg anticipates the project will receive final approval from the planning board in July.
The Federated Cos. has a purchase-and-sale agreement with the city to buy the property, which it will do for roughly $2.1 million when final planning board approval is received, Shinberg said. He said they could break ground on the project this fall.