June 21, 2018
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Portland planners to review proposal for housing project previously criticized as ‘a monolithic block’

Courtesy Portland Planning Department | BDN
Courtesy Portland Planning Department | BDN
This rendering, provided to the Portland Planning Board by developer 113 Newbury Street LLC, depicts the second phase of the Bay House project in Portland's India Street neighborhood as it appeared in late September. The 39-unit residential building would be constructed on the corner of the Newbury and Hancock streets.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — A housing development proposed for Portland’s India Street neighborhood dismissed last month by a member of the city’s Planning Board as “a monolithic block” is scheduled to return for another review by the board Tuesday.

The $12 million Phase II of the high-profile Bay House project, now titled Seaport Lofts, would be a 60,000-square-foot structure constructed at the corner of Newbury and Hancock streets. The project was to include 39 residential units — seven townhomes and 32 flats — according to documentation filed with the Planning Board last month. The development would also have included 43 parking spaces.

On Sept. 24, members of the Portland Planning Board told project architect David White the building as designed was unsatisfactory, with a 230-foot-long face along Newbury Street that board member Jack Soley described as “almost a monolithic block” with inadequate architectural features to break the space up visually.

Neighborhood opponents of the project circulated template emails in advance of last month’s board meeting saying the development features “a blockish, soulless face reminiscent of Soviet Russia.”

But White insisted the dull-colored renderings distributed to the board at the time did not do the project justice, saying windows, material colors, awnings and depth variations in the criticized Newbury Street face would give it more architectural personality than opponents realized.

The architect also said too dramatic a redesign would threaten the financial viability of the project, which he said was already over budget.

On Tuesday, the Planning Board is scheduled to review the project again to see what revisions developers have made over the past month in response to their design concerns.

The larger Phase I of the Bay House project on nearby Middle Street, where units are reported to be ready for occupancy in December, features 94 luxury condominiums.

Portland’s India Street neighborhood has been a hotbed of development activity in recent years, with a mixed-use Hampton Inn-based development where the former Jordan’s Meats factory once stood and an ambitious six-story condominium complex abutting Franklin Street once contemplated by billionaire S. Donald Sussman before falling into limbo.

A public visioning exercise, in which neighborhood residents have been invited to weigh in on a comprehensive build-out strategy for the once neglected area, is ongoing.

The nonprofit Sustain Southern Maine put together a development strategy for the neighborhood as part of a $1.6 million grant-funded process.

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