Sheridan Heights site
A view of the Sumner Heights construction site on Sheridan Street in Portland from Fort Sumner Park. The developer's plan to use soil nails to stabilize the building on the steep slope below the park has been scrapped. Instead, construction will require the lengthier, noisier process of pile driving. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
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A proposal to use a quieter, quicker construction process to build a 19-unit condominium building on Munjoy Hill was thwarted by two Portland boards.

The project at 155 Sheridan St. is now likely to employ the method the developer was hoping to avoid: several months of pile driving, where support beams are hammered deep into the ground vertically to stabilize the hillside building.

The developer, Sumner Heights Realty, had been hoping to use a process that instead involved “soil nails,” which would have been less disruptive to neighbors and reduced the construction period by several months.

Soil nails are used on unstable natural soil slopes. They are long, slender reinforcing rods that are inserted into pre-drilled horizontal holes in the slope. Some have already been installed on the property, but the developer needed city approval to insert additional nails beneath Fort Sumner Park, which is owned by the city.

The developer said the technique would not affect the park or any future construction the city might do in the area.

The project, which requires earth stabilization before the foundation can be poured because of the steep slope of the hillside below the park, went before the Parks Commission and the Land Bank Commission.

The Parks Commission voted unanimously not to recommend the project to the City Council, citing the “permanent nature” of the soil nails, according to a statement from the developers. The Land Bank Commission voted 5-4 against recommending the proposal, with commission member City Councilor Anna Trevorrow, who represents the Sheridan Street district, in favor of the project.

Mark Robinson, the spokesperson for Sumner Heights Realty, said the votes were surprising since the developer only learned of staff opposition to their plan at the meetings, which took nearly three months to schedule. 

“Had we known ahead of time that the city was in opposition, Sumner Heights Realty might not have made the investment to advance the proposal,” Robinson said. “Staff opposition seemed to affect the votes pretty heavily.”

He said Sumner Heights Realty spent about $20,000 on technical experts to explain soil nails to neighbors, the Planning Department, and the Parks and Land Bank commissions.

Robinson also said the process was “professional and fair” and that city staff was responsive to the developer’s questions along the way. 

“The major sticking point seemed to be permanence,” he said. “The city often grants easements to commercial entities for common-sense reasons, but most are temporary. Even though the soil nails would have been 30 or 40 feet under the ground and would have in no way affected use of the park, the fact that the proposed agreement was permanent seemed to be a psychological line they could not cross.”

The request for soil nails came after the project received final Planning Board approval, when the developers discovered the slope below the North Street park would need reinforcement. Pile driving, which does not need additional approvals, would only involve the property owned by Sumner Heights Realty.

Had the soil nails been approved, the developer said the installation would take about three weeks. Pile driving, meanwhile, is expected to require several months of daily, repetitive pounding.

The project consists of 19 one- and two-bedroom condos, with prices starting at $699,000. Construction is expected to last 14-18 months.

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