June 23, 2018
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Multimillion-dollar, four-tower Portland project stalled by legal proceedings

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
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 in this June 2013 file photo.
By Jon Chrisos, CBS 13

PORTLAND, Maine — A multimillion dollar plan to clean up and re-develop an industrial area of Portland is on hold. The last time CBS 13 visited the project site in the Bayside neighborhood in January, construction was said to potentially start in a few weeks. So when it didn’t, CBS 13 set out to find out why.

Turns out, the project is drowning in hundreds of pages of legal documents.

From scrap yard to city snow dump, parts of Portland’s Bayside neighborhood have seen more vibrant days. Back in 2000, city leaders came up with a “New Vision for Bayside.” Three years ago, the city agreed to sell three acres of land on Somerset Street to Miami-based Federated Companies. The developer came up with a $100 million plan envisioning four 15-story towers with as many as 850 apartments, two parking garages and retail space.

“The Midtown project was not an accidental project. It’s something that came out of 15 years of deliberative planning from the city,” Portland Director of Planning & Urban Development Jeff Levine said.

Levine explained that for years the developer worked with the planning board to get permission to do things outside the zoning ordinance, such as having 165 foot towers.

“In this case, the planning board did grant some waivers of specific listed standards within the ordinance. That is explicitly allowed and came as no surprise,” Levine said.

After an extensive public process, the board gave the final OK to the first phase of the project: one tower and a parking garage. But lawsuits show the group Keep Portland Livable is fighting in court what it calls a “massive mistake” and is asking a judge to reverse the planning board approval.

“We think the city has made a contract which violates its own land use ordinances, vision, and the city’s comprehensive plan,” group leader Peter Monro said.

“It is frustrating when I’ve heard folks say, ‘The power to stall is power to kill.’ That’s a lousy way to oppose the project,” consultant Greg Shinberg said.

Monro said Midtown is too big and out of character for the neighborhood.

“We’re concerned about the future of Portland and that it be developed on its traditional strengths,” Monro said.

But Levine said the project does fit the zoning ordinance, design standards, and the vision laid out in 2000.

“We’re pretty optimistic about it. We think it’s a good project, and we think the Bayside Trail will benefit by having people live around it,” Levine said.

Within the past couple weeks, a judge threw out some of the counts in the lawsuit, including the main claim that the planning board failed to comply with the city’s comprehensive plan. Decisions on the zoning and design challenges are still pending.

The judge set a September deadline for both sides to get in all their paperwork.


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