February 25, 2018
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Portland landlord sues DHHS, says agency’s decision to move office ‘constituted an abuse of discretion’

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Homeless and poverty advocate Mark Swann of Preble Street listens at a press conference Dec. 3 in Portland as protesters speak against the state's plan to move DHHS offices out of downtown.
By David Harry, The Forecaster

PORTLAND, Maine — A Cumberland County Superior Court justice is being asked to require the state to conduct a formal appeal of bids for a new state office complex, now slated for construction on Jetport Drive in South Portland.

Lawyers for developer Tom Toye of Cape Elizabeth, who owns Bayside buildings that were rejected by the state, filed a lawsuit Friday, Dec. 20. A hearing date has not been scheduled, according to court clerks.

The complaint names Edward Dahl, director of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services’ Bureau of General Services, as a defendant and lists bid winners Jetport State Building LLC as an interested party.

Jetport State Building LLC is headed by Eric Cianchette, a financial supporter of Gov. Paul LePage and conservative causes in Maine.

The complaint is similar to Toye’s administrative appeal of the state’s decision on Nov. 6 to award the bid to Jetport State Building, which proposes building an 82,000-square-foot building that will house area offices for the state Labor and Health and Human Services departments and Worker’s Compensation Board.

The Department of Health and Human Services now leases space at 161 Marginal Way. The Department of Labor leases space from Toye at 185 Lancaster St. Toye’s proposal to lease the state renovated space at 185 and 200 Lancaster St., at the corners of Elm and Preble streets, scored lowest of four proposals received by the state in September.

The court complaint argues the state did not follow the proper appeals process after Toye appealed to Dahl. Instead, William Leet, who directs the agency’s Division of Leased Space and was one of six panelists who scored the bids, wrote a letter of rebuttal to Toye.

“[There] was no opportunity for a hearing where evidence could be presented,” according to the court complaint. “There was no thorough or independent review of the award.”

Last month, Bureau of General Services spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said the state anticipates the department consolidation in South Portland will save the state $14 million in lease costs over the next 20 years.

But awarding the project to Cianchette, whose proposal scored highest and projects a $43.3 million lease cost over the next 20 years, drew protests from Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and state Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland. They and others have said the move will mean clients will not have proper access to services because of inadequate public transportation.

The site on Jetport Drive requires Cianchette to buy land from Brooklawn Cemetery, and needs an easement for access to Jetport Drive. It is served by one Metro bus route and a South Portland bus that stops at Jetport Plaza, about a mile away.

Bid documents show the Bayside proposal carried the least expensive lease rates, but a shortage of free parking in the area boosted the projected state cost by $5.3 million from the anticipated $36.4 million 20-year lease costs.

Leet also noted the Bayside proposal was not for one building for all departments, as requested by the state.

The court complaint argues the state erred in awarding the Jetport bid because Cianchette does not yet own land to be developed and his proposal calls for the state to pay any construction cost overruns.

“The award and denial were arbitrarily capricious … [and] constituted an abuse of discretion,” according to the complaint.

The proposed office consolidation also drew bids from developers with proposals at 222 St. John St., adjacent to the Union Station Shopping Plaza, and in the Brickhill section of South Portland.

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