Portland Planning Board OKs Preble Street shelter plan

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After several months of debate, the Portland Planning Board approved a proposal to convert the former Preble Street Resource Center to a 40-bed emergency shelter.

The board unanimously approved the conditional use proposal in a Jan. 5 meeting that ran just over four hours, capping a process that included two other Planning Board workshops and approximately 1,300 public emails to the board.

Preble Street Resource Center, Portland
The Portland Street courtyard outside the Preble Street Resource Center will be fenced in under a plan to convert the building to a 40-bed shelter. (Portland Phoenix file/Colin Ellis)

The vast majority of those emails, plus the hours of public comment before the board, were in favor of the proposal for the Bayside organization.

Preble Street transitioned away from the resource center and soup kitchen that it had traditionally operated at 5 Portland St. under guidance for operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the agency’s decision didn’t sit well with some residents of the neighborhood, opponents of the plan, and even some city officials – including City Manager Jon Jennings, who placed the blame for more publicly visible gatherings of homeless individuals in Deering Oaks Park at Preble Street’s doorstep.

Planning Board Chairman Brandon Mazer explained that the board had a narrow view with limited authority in this matter. He said its role was to determine if the application met the standards of the city code and zoning, and not to create policy.

Part of the conditional approval was a requirement for a revamped management with several stipulations, including the maximum number of clients allowed in the shelter, a future management plan advisory group, and locations for security cameras.

Preble Street will also have to submit any changes to the management plan to city Planning Department staff for approval, although Executive Director Mark Swann said the agency doesn’t plan to increase the size of the center beyond the 40 beds, even after the pandemic has abated.