The Planning Board has approved a 171-unit apartment building in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood.
While the project was unanimously approved by the board, some neighbors still expressed concerns over the size of the project and what they see as a lack of effort by the developer to involve the neighborhood early in the review process.
The $60 million project, from developer Tom Watson & Co., is expected to be completed in two years, with occupancy in 2023. The eight-story, 239,000-square-foot complex will have a pool, parking garage, and other amenities, including retail space on the first floor, that will transform the 52 Hanover St. block that had been the maintenance division of the city’s Department of Public Works.
Watson won a bid from the city to purchase both 82 and 52 Hanover St. After transforming 82 Hanover into a business block that now includes the Yard and Wilson County Barbeque, he initially said his intention was to turn 52 Hanover into maker space where artists and others could develop their own projects.
But he said he realized Bayside needed more housing, so he eventually proposed turning the property into rental apartments. “We really thought long and hard,” Watson said, “and this is what we came up with.”
He acknowledged the project has elicited a fair amount of criticism and support, and said he is satisfied his development team has satisfied as many concerns as they realistically could.
The Planning Board on March 23 supported the project 4-0, with members Marpheen Chann and David Silk absent and Vice Chair Maggie Stanley abstaining.
“This is the last piece of the puzzle,” Watson said.
The building between Lancaster and Portland streets will include 20 income-restricted, workforce apartments, defined by the city as housing for households earning up to 100 percent of the area median income. Based on city information, monthly rents for 100 percent AMI could range from $1,766 for a one-bedroom unit to $2,018 for two bedrooms.
Rents for the building’s remaining 132 one-bedroom units and 39 two-bedroom units have not been established.
The project is exempt from the city’s recent Green New Deal ordinance – which changed Portland’s green building codes, requires contractors to hire a percentage of workforce employees as apprentices and pay higher wages, and requires construction to align with the 2019 Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code – because it was in the pipeline prior to the referendum last November that enacted the changes.
Based on the property’s elevation, the building will be five stories tall in some areas and up to eight stories in others. It will include 6,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.
Will Savage, principal and senior project manager at Acorn Engineering, said there will be a 176-space, two-level parking garage. Access to the first floor of the garage will be on one street and access to the second floor on another, to split traffic flow. He said parking fees will be unbundled from rent.
There will also be 88 spaces for bicycles, and a room within the building for storage and bicycle repair on the first floor accessed via Hanover Street.
Savage said one major change from the last time this proposal came before the Planning Board was to bury a proposed transformer on the site. He said they also added bench seating, removed some problem curbing, and improved crosswalks.
The project will have an outdoor plaza and will contribute $60,000 to the city’s tree fund. This will pay for approximately 150 trees, which Bayside residents and members of the Planning Board said they would like to see used specifically in the Bayside neighborhood.
That decision, Planning Board Chair Brandon Mazer said, is up to the city, not the board.
A handful of Bayside residents continued to speak against the project, either in general or on certain aspects of it.
Heidi Souerwine, a Mechanic Street resident, said she is a close neighbor to the development. While she does want the project to succeed, she said, she is concerned about the scale of the building.
“Six (stories) feels like the right height, not eight,” Souerwine said, describing herself as both “excited and concerned” about the plan.
Jim Hall, of Cedar Street, said he mostly likes the project, but is concerned about “any sudden change in scale and mass.”
“I’m angry there doesn’t seem to be any right time in the development process to discuss foundational concerns (about the neighborhood),” he said. “Bayside still needs a plan.”