The Portland Phoenix

Portland panel advances Riverside shelter plan, airs Auburn St. affordable housing proposals

Portland is planning a 200-bed emergency shelter for this city-owned property on Riverside Street. Developers Collaborative, would build and own the facility, and the city would lease it. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

Portland officials last week continued their march forward toward speedy approval of a 200-bed emergency shelter proposed for Riverside Street.

The City Council Housing and Economic Development Committee on June 1 unanimously recommended authorizing Developers Collaborative to begin design work and a public engagement process for the emergency shelter.

The City Council unanimously approved the design and public engagement recommendation on Monday, June 7, without much additional discussion.

The committee also discussed three potential affordable housing projects on city-owned property close to the Falmouth border, but didn’t make any decisions.

Portland’s Housing and Economic Development Committee is negotiating with Developers Collaborative for construction of the 200-bed shelter. (Courtesy city of Portland)

The Developers Collaborative authorization is the first of three the city and developer will need before the project is finalized, Housing and Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said. He also said this design phase comes at no cost to the city.

A second recommendation will outline terms for compensating Developers Collaborative and their consultants for various “soft” design costs. That will get the project to a site plan review by the Planning Board in the fall.

The final recommendation that must come from the committee will be a ground lease and master lease since the project would be on city property but the building will be constructed and owned by the developer and leased to the city.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who chairs the committee, said this part of the process is about seeing “what does this actually look like practically?” and seeing if the deal can work for both sides. While the committee agreed to negotiate with Developers Collaborative based on the company’s response to a request for proposals, these are still the earliest stages of the project and either side can still walk away.

City staff, meanwhile, also remain firm in their belief this project can avoid a continuing grassroots effort to hold a Nov. 2 referendum that if successful would limit the size of emergency shelters in Portland.

Mitchell and Associate Corporation Counsel Michael Goldman previously told the committee the project would not be bound by the referendum if it hits certain timeline checkmarks and receives final Planning Board approval at least 45 days before Nov. 2. 

The referendum initiative, led by a group called Portlanders for Safer Shelters, is in the signature-gathering stage. Backers must get 1,500 signatures from registered voters by July 1. If they succeed and the referendum passes in November it would be retroactive to April 20.

In addition to limiting shelter sizes to 50 beds, the referendum would also remove several standards that are not appropriate for every type of shelter, set limits on shelter size, and require new shelters to be open 24 hours a day, except for family and domestic violence shelters.

There was some question about how this would be impacted if the Planning Board’s final decision, if in favor, is appealed. Goldman said he did not have that answer, and Thibodeau indicated that may require a discussion with corporation counsel in an executive session.

Affordable housing

The discussion on affordable housing followed the city’s receipt of three responses to a request for proposals for properties at 622 Auburn St. and 0 Gray Road.

The three were from Habitat from Humanity of Greater Portland, which scored the highest of the three; Maine Cooperative Development Partners, which scored just behind Habitat, and Great Falls Construction, which scored a distant third.

Mary Davis, the city’s housing and community development director, said Great Falls did not provide enough detail in its proposal.

Habitat proposed a subdivision of 12 single-family homes. Each would be between 1,000 and 1,500 square feet, with two, three, or four bedrooms, and 1.5 or two bathrooms. The homes would be built in compliance with the city’s Green Building Ordinance and would be affordable to households earning at or below 80 percent of the area median income.

Maine Cooperative Development Partners proposed a 48-unit limited-equity cooperative with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom limited-equity homes. The group, which has a project underway nearby at 165 Lambert St., said ownership shares would be affordable to households earning between 80 and 100 percent of the area median income.

Both of these proposals indicated the land at 0 Gray Road is undevelopable and would conserve that space for public use. Davis also said a Falmouth business owner had expressed interest in purchasing a portion of the property that abuts the town line.

Great Falls proposed homes to sell or lease to mixed-income families, and a workforce development site with classroom and field training for skilled laborers.

Davis said Habitat was recommended over MCDP because MCDP already has the other project nearby, as well as the impact 48 additional housing units might have on the neighborhood.

The committee tabled further action until its next meeting.

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