First phase of four-tower, $150 million Portland project faces long-awaited board vote

Greg Shinberg of Shinberg Consulting goes over a proposed master plan for the Midtown development project in Portland's East Bayside at a neighborhood meeting on June 5, 2013.
Greg Shinberg of Shinberg Consulting goes over a proposed master plan for the Midtown development project in Portland's East Bayside at a neighborhood meeting on June 5, 2013. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 13, 2014, at 5:15 p.m.
A rendering of the first phase of the proposed Midtown complex in Portland's Bayside neighborhood, showing the first of four apartment towers, right, along Somerset Street.
The Federated Cos.
A rendering of the first phase of the proposed Midtown complex in Portland's Bayside neighborhood, showing the first of four apartment towers, right, along Somerset Street.

PORTLAND, Maine — The fate of the first phase of what developers hope will be a four-tower, $150 million mixed-use project in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood may hinge on what happens Tuesday night.

The city’s Planning Board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to allow one 165-foot-tall tower and a nearby parking garage to be built.

The board was previously slated to vote on site plan and subdivision approvals for the development at its Dec. 10 meeting, but delayed the decision by a little more than a month after nearly five hours of discussion — most of which came from the 50 people who gave public comment either for or against the plan.

The so-called Midtown project has been at the center of debate in Maine’s largest city for more than a year, and has been the subject of numerous hours-long city meetings and workshops.

Developers from The Federated Cos. of Florida are pursuing site-plan approval for the first phase of the project — a 165-foot-tall, 235-unit apartment building with nearly 44,000 square feet on the lower floors for restaurants and shops, and a nearby parking garage that will be 75 feet high and include 700 spaces. Estimated costs for the first phase are between $45 million and $50 million.

They are concurrently seeking the city’s larger master development plan designation that would lay the proverbial groundwork for the next two phases.

By the time the proposed Midtown project would be complete, after a decade’s worth of construction and $150 million in investment, the complex would encompass 1.16 million square feet, including 700,000 square feet of residential space, 100,000 square feet of retail and more than 1,100 garage parking spaces.

If permitted, the development would occupy the stretch of Somerset Street between Elm Street and what will be an extension of Pearl Street, bisected by Chestnut Street. The largely undeveloped city-owned area was formerly industrial scrapyards.

The developers already have City Council approval to exceed the 85-foot height limitation to build the first of the four towers — the other three are proposed to stand in an abutting zone where 165-foot heights are conditionally allowed.

Citizens groups have sprouted up both in favor and against the project. The group Keep Portland Livable, founded by residents Peter Monro and Tim Paradis in opposition to the development, has argued the project is too massive and is out of scale in a small city like Portland.

Portlanders for Sustainability formed in support of the project, countering that it will revive what was long a downtrodden section of the city.

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