383 Commercial Street (Rufus Deering Site) Plan Advances to Planning Board Vote

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Joe Dasco, Developer for 383 Commercial Street, the Former Site of Rufus Deering, at Tonight’s Planning Board Meeting.

“We’ve been at this for a year.  It’s a year this month,” said Joe Dasco, early this evening following the decision to forward his proposed  Master Development Plan to the planning board for an up or down vote on the 2.58 acres of land formerly known as the Rufus Deering site.  “I’m ready for the vote,” Dasco said.

The proposal to redevelop 383 Commercial Street includes a restaurant, a 139 room hotel, a garage, retail space and 211 condo units – all to be built in three phases – with the hotel and some condos coming in the first two phases.

Traffic and parking concerns along with an enclosed walk way between the hotel and the condos were stumbling blocks for a smooth transition to the Board’s vote at the 2 l/2 hour workshop.  A traffic survey that Board member Carol Morrisetts said fails  “the straight face test” because of the method selected to conduct it.  Steve Sawyer, from Sebago Technics, said there will be three access points creating a wide disbursement of traffic.  He concluded that l/2 of the traffic trips are likely to be from York Street rather than from Commercial Street acknowledging the methodology used might not be appropriate here and was still being discussed. with the city.

Dasco, who also developed Bay House on 113 Newberry Street on the east end of Portland, said that the bridge was a “great feature”, despite criticisms about it from the Board and the public.  Board member Brandon Mazur said it was an unusual feature in this instance.  The architect said the bridge is being kept to allow seniors from the residential units to get to the hotel pool without going outside.  Dasco, responding to Mazur,  could not guarantee that the hotel would permit condo owners to use amenities there, but would encourage it.

During the public comment segment, Tom Kroon, a resident of Maple Street, expressed concern about future parking on an already restricted street.  The developer told him to look at the website because there is “lots of information about Maple Street” there.  Bryan Van Dussen, a High Street resident, said the project is being built in phases to see if the economics warrant all of the units.  “Why not build a shorter building all at once rather than a 65 ft. tall building?”  His wife Jodie said that traffic studies are statistics.  “There are massive traffic issues already in the area.  Controlling traffic lights is not a plan,” she said referring to a city plan to adjust the Beach Street light to the traffic.

During Board deliberations around 6:30 pm. members  were outspoken in their criticism of the project.  “This is the working waterfront.  I don’t think its is fair to take this hotel at the expense of its citizens,” said Morrisette.  Sean Dundon said the bridge “looks like a wall or gate that is private.”  Chairwoman Elizabeth Boepple likewise was outspoken in her criticism:  “There is too much glass and it will not give enough interaction with the public, the scope and scale of the project from the waterfront is an issue, and asked if Dasco could make his figures work in another configuration?

Board member Lisa Whitehead expressed concern several times how the fishing industry would be affected by such a project.

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