‘Healthy living’ apartment building planned for Portland lot once sought for high-profile tower

A CWS Architects rendering depicting a housing development Portland-based nonprofit Avesta Housing hopes to construct at 409 Cumberland Ave. The project is proposed to include 57 units of affordable and market rate housing.
Contributed image | BDN
A CWS Architects rendering depicting a housing development Portland-based nonprofit Avesta Housing hopes to construct at 409 Cumberland Ave. The project is proposed to include 57 units of affordable and market rate housing.
Posted July 16, 2013, at 7:06 p.m.
The inside of a housing development Portland-based nonprofit Avesta Housing hopes to construct in this CWS Architects rendering.
Contributed image | BDN
The inside of a housing development Portland-based nonprofit Avesta Housing hopes to construct in this CWS Architects rendering.
The outside of the new housing development by Portland-based nonprofit Avesta Housing in a  CWS Architects rendering.
Contributed image | BDN
The outside of the new housing development by Portland-based nonprofit Avesta Housing in a CWS Architects rendering.
A wide shot of the CWS Architects rendering of the housing development  Avesta Housing hopes to construct.
Contributed image | BDN
A wide shot of the CWS Architects rendering of the housing development Avesta Housing hopes to construct.

PORTLAND, Maine — Avesta Housing hopes to build a 57-unit “healthy living” apartment building on the once controversial 409 Cumberland Ave. lot, which has remained undeveloped since an ambitious 12-story tower proposal for the site fizzled nearly six years ago.

Developers say the $10 million project is intended to be “housing with a purpose” and feature common spaces for healthy food preparation workshops, exercise classes and — if some additional financing can be pinned down — even a rooftop garden and greenhouse for residents.

The proposed four-story structure atop a lower parking level continues in what has been a development boom in Portland. Nearly 900 new housing units are potentially in the city’s pipeline as part of development projects recently built, permitted or proposed for construction.

Two other such projects carry the Avesta label: The 54-unit second phase of the nonprofit housing group’s Pearl Place complex, which celebrated its grand opening last month, and the 16-unit townhouse-style Adams School campus on Munjoy Hill.

The latest proposed addition to the Avesta family at 409 Cumberland Ave. is taking some of its cues from the organization’s Oak Street Lofts facility in the city’s arts district, which was built to appeal to a niche audience of artists with gallery space and wires stretched down the hallways to hang fresh pieces.

This time around, Avesta’s target audience is people on the healthy living kick, with plans to provide space to grow local food, learn how to cook it and then sweat it off.

Women’s Health magazine ranked Portland the 10th best city in America in terms of healthy living earlier this year.

The largely still undeveloped property at 409 Cumberland Ave. has had its share of headlines. A previous developer hoped to construct a high-profile $31 million, 12-story, 94-unit condominium project there by 2007, but faced a lawsuit by the owners of the neighboring 15-story Back Bay Towers who complained the new building would block their tenants’ views and decrease property values.

That developer, Washington, D.C.-based Jeffrey Cohen, survived the lawsuit but was stalled long enough for the recession to take hold and market to crumble, sinking the ambitious project despite city officials’ high hopes for the lot at the time.

On Monday night, the Portland city council unanimously gave final approval for an Avesta proposal to tweak the zoning at the site, which had previously been split between R6 residential zoning and B3 downtown business zoning. With the change, the B3 zoning — which allows the building to exceed 45 feet in height, among other allowances — will be expanded to cover 5,280 square feet of the lot.

The R6 zoning will remain on the other 2,648 square feet, and will be utilized for six surface parking spaces and an outdoor courtyard.

The building on the property will be approximately L-shaped and be situated up against the intersection of Cumberland and Forest avenues. The structure will contain 46 affordable housing units and 11 market-rate units, on top of a parking garage level including 12 spaces.

The monthly rents in the market-rate units will range from $825 to $1,400, according to a project description distributed by Avesta, and the affordable units will cost renters between $669 and $1,030 per month.

The project will next go before the Planning Board for a workshop on Tuesday, when Avesta representatives will begin seeking site plan approval.

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