Portland planners OK plan for tallest building in Maine

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Developers of what will be the tallest building in Maine said they plan to seek a building permit this week and break ground by August after receiving unanimous Portland Planning board approval last week.

The proposal, by Redfern Properties LLC, is for an 18-story building at the intersection of Federal and Temple streets. It will have 266 apartments and ground-floor retail space.

Board members praised the project and the developers’ willingness to work with staff on recommended changes. Redfern co-owner Jonathan Culley said this was the sixth time the proposal had appeared before the Planning Board, and board Chair Brandon Mazer said it improved with each iteration.

The Portland Planning Board approved Redfern Properties’ plan to build an 18-story apartment tower, the building at right in this rendering, at what will be 201 Federal St., in Portland’s Old Port. (Courtesy Redfern Properties)

One hang-up was a proposal for a pocket park on the property, which would have a three-season display wall with running water. There was some question over how close the wall would be to nearby parking and the adjacent post office, but Mazer said he was comfortable moving forward with approving the site plan.

Culley said the plan is to not build the pocket park until 2023, and they anticipated having to come back for a separate building permit, or returning to the Historic Preservation Board.

“This will be great housing,” Mazer said, though he admitted he wasn’t sure at the beginning that the project would be approved “given some of the recent referendums.”

The proposal, at the new address of 201 Federal St., will have the majority of its parking offsite. While one space per unit is the traditional zoning requirement, the board granted a waiver to allow Redfern to provide 125 spaces, which is 47 percent of the requirement.

Will Savage, a principal and senior project manager with Acorn Engineering, told the board leased parking is being proposed at the Chestnut Street garage. He said at peak residential times – which they surveyed at 4:30 a.m. – a traffic engineer only documented 25 vehicles in the 460-space garage, which is “less than 1,500 feet walking distance,” Savage said.

City Planner Caitlin Cameron said the project will provide 27 units of affordable housing: 15 one-bedrooms and 12 studio apartments. Culley had previously estimated rents for these units will range between $1,300 and $2,200 a month.

Culley said the Postal Service has been given “hundreds of pages of documentation” on the project, and his company would also work on exposure and signage so people know the post office is still there. He said the project also benefits the post office, since the residents will become customers.

Culley said his team also adopted staff recommendations and adjusted loading zones around the building, including loading space used by the post office.

The project previously received City Council approval for zoning amendments to allow it to be fully built out to 190 feet tall. Under existing zoning, a building could be 150 feet tall with a 40-foot architectural cap on top. The project also received approval from the Historic Preservation Board on April 21, which was necessary because it is in the Congress Street Historic District.