By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,452)
34 Howard Street on Munjoy Hill has become a rallying cry for neighbors who support Question 2 on the November 3rd ballot. Dubbed “The Tower”, yet to be constructed condominium units have neighbors angry – very angry. The suggested five-story building, including a garage level, if built would replace a trashed home long empty. The property is owned by real estate agent Tom Landry and he wants to “build to suit” future condominium owners.
While it’s not clear just what “scenic” view would be blocked by the possible construction of the Tower, neighbors are supporting the referendum on the upcoming ballot next month. Neighbor David Jefferson, a home owner, thinks the city needs a better planning process. He’s also extremely critical of the city’s policy that is de-emphasizing the use of cars on the peninsula through recent zoning changes..
” We need to slow down fast growth such as 34 Howard Street. We are being told we have no say in a building we will stare at for years. We don’t need a Barby & Ken Dreamhouse here. There are two sides to all of this,” a frustrated Jefferson told this blogger recently while standing in front of the Tower. Finally, Jefferson said that Question 2, intended to stop the redevelopment of 58 Fore Street, had nothing to do with the property at 34 Howard Street. But he’s still supporting Question 2 on the November 3rd, anyway.
Indeed there are two sides to the view referendum as Jefferson pointed-out.
Housing for low-income people would be jeopardized should this referendum pass according to housing experts. Not just high-end housing would disappear, but low-income housing would be stopped said Dana Totman, President of Avesta Housing. Totman and others made their case against Question 2 from the construction site of a low-income project at 134 Washington Avenue. Built to accommodate veterans, the development would have been challenged if the proposed ordinance had been in effect. The eighteen rental units, “Thomas Heights,” has a sweeping view from the back yard that would be challenged under the ordinance, although it is not a water view. “We want to build more units like this because there is a desperate need for it,” said Totman. Thomas Heights, named for a Preble Street employee and veteran, will begin moving tenants into their efficiency units in mid-December.
“Last year more than 3,000 households sought an affordable home from Avesta, but we were only able to help about 300 because resources are so scarce,” said Totman. “Now in 2015, requests for our housing are up by another 25 percent overall and more than 45 percent among senior households. In the face of much-needed affordable housing, our concern is that at least six of the affordable properties we have built in Portland in recent years, now housing more than 200 seniors and families, may never have happened if this proposed view referendum were in place. An additional hurdle to creating much-needed affordable housing is a risk that people in need of affordable housing can’t afford,” said Totman.
Totman expressed concern that the new 57 units at 409 Cumberland Avenue or the 16 condos at the former Adam’s School site on Munjoy Hill or the 114 homes on Pearl Street would have all been challenged had this ordinance been in place when they were proposed. “Unfortunately, there are 2,500 people on our waiting list and we want to build more housing for them. That may not be possible because question 2 will add another hurdle to creating affordable housing…..”
“At a time when AARP Maine is working with Portland to ensure the city is a community for all ages to live, work and play, this proposal is very restrictive and would greatly impact housing options for all older and middle-income Portlanders,” said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. “As currently written, the referendum is also confusing and unclear to voters. AARP Maine urges Portland voters to vote No on Portland Question 2.”
Real estate attorney Barbara Vestal whose home overlooks the ten acres of waterfront property wrote the ill-conceived referendum. (Vestal represents developers Peter Bass and Ron Gan in real estate matters, among others.)