A rendering of the proposed Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic to be built at 113 West Commercial St. in Portland, from application materials submitted to the city.
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AVeterans Health Administration outpatient clinic planned for the north side of West Commercial Street is on a fast track to open by the summer of 2021. 

The $30 million project to be built by JB Brown & Sons on a portion of a 10-acre site at 113 West Commercial St. would include a 62,000-square-foot, two-story health clinic; three-level, 352-space parking garage, and a ground-level 150-space staff parking lot. 

The project, just west of the colorful Portland Star Match building, is expected to increase traffic on Commercial street in the area between the Veterans Memorial and Casco Bay bridges. 

A rendering of the proposed VA Outpatient Clinic on the north side of West Commercial Street waterfront from the project application to the city of Portland.

A Traffic Management Permit application submitted Dec. 6 to the city Planning and Urban Development Department projects an increase of 229 morning trips and 204 evening trips during Commercial Street’s peak hours, and 325 mid-morning trips and 288 mid-afternoon trips during the clinic’s peak hours. 

The permit application says there will be three driveways from West Commercial Street, which would require new left-turning lanes, and anticipates no conflict with the nearby Canal Landing marine facility. 

A public hearing on the traffic management permit will only be conducted if there is a written request to the city no later than 20 days from the date the application is determined to be complete. Jennifer Munson, office manager for Planning and Urban Development, said Friday, Dec. 13, that the application is still being reviewed for completeness. 

JB Brown, partner win bid

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs issued a request for proposals in 2018 to build the community-based outpatient clinic in Portland or South Portland.

Local commercial property managers JB Brown & Sons partnered with FD Stonewater, a Virginia-based real estate development and management firm with expertise in government-leased facilities, on the proposal chosen by the VA Department in September. Landry French Construction, SmithGroup Architecture, and Gorrill Palmer engineers are also on the development team. 

JB Brown President Vincent Veroneau told the Phoenix the VA Department has been looking to have an outpatient clinic in the greater Portland area for several years. He said construction is expected to begin in the spring, so the clinic can open by the summer of 2021. 

The property is now vacant and contains no wetlands, vernal pools, streams, endangered species habitat or historic structures. JB Brown owned the site in the 1800s before selling it in 1879 to Portland Terminal Co. Veroneau said JB Brown bought the property back from Maine Railroad Co. in 2011. 

The company then pursued a zone change to be consistent with the balance of that side of West Commercial Street, and company officials met with West End residents to let them know of their plan. The neighbors’ concerns were mostly related to views of the Fore River, so as part of the zone change the allowable structure height was reduced. The clinic development falls within the reduced height guidelines. 

According to application materials, at maximum height of 43 feet, the building will result in “insignificant visual impact” to homes to the north, which are at a higher elevation than the development site. Lighting will not extend above the “horizontal plane.” 

Veroneau said he also recently presented a concept plan to neighbors. He said it was a positive meeting and the residents appreciated being notified of the plans. 

Establishing VA brand

Documents filed with the city call the project location a gateway to Portland, and say the design will establish the VA brand as a recognized identity in the community. 

The entry into the property between the parking garage and clinic will be designed to honor veterans with “patriotic supergraphics” as backdrops of glass-fronted corners that extend higher than the rest of the two structures. 

SmithGroup states in an architectural narrative filed with the city that it designed the building with the role of architecture and interior design in the healing process in mind. The proposed building incorporates views of the Fore River with high glazed glass to bring in natural light to “reach deep down into clinical corridors.” 

The building materials of corrugated metal and brick were chosen for their dual connection to Portland and military themes. Corrugated metal represents “the unwavering strength of our service members” and evokes “industrial military hangars and barracks, as well as referencing Portland’s waterfront industry and shipping containers,” the architectural narrative states, and a randomized color variation in the brick “represents the diverse cultural backgrounds of our veterans, while also nodding to Portland’s traditional New England red brick.”  

To manage stormwater and flooding, a drainage, storage and treatment system is planned so that runoff from porous pavement sections of the parking lot and the clinic roof will drain into a subsurface chamber storage system and underground treatment device before hitting the city’s stormwater system. Although West Commercial Street is subject to flooding during intense storms, the application materials say the site is outside the 100-year floodplain. 

The site design includes development of a 10-foot wide paved pathway along West Commercial Street, with new curbing and a retaining wall, potentially using waterfront tax-increment financing district money to support the costs of its construction. 

City staff said the application has not yet been assigned to a planner or been scheduled for review by the Planning Board.

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