By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,323)
Tonight the Midtown project survived city scrutiny for its Level lll Site Plan, but whether or not it can survive a caveat placed upon that approval is another can of worms. The City’s Planning Board approved the Site Plan, but attached a condition to it that has forced this development into the realm of the surreal. Federated has repeatedly drawn its line in the sand as to what changes it can make and what changes it can’t make to the proposed development, despite the persistence of the planning board. One of those changes it can’t make is to divide one massive building into several pieces.
Planning Board members have consistently been unhappy with Midtown Building # 3. It’s the largest building of the four buildings with 260 residential units and over 400 ft. in length. Objections focus on the massiveness of the building with insufficient permeability through the middle of it. That aperture would lead to the Bayside portion of Portland Trails – a seriously underused segment of the Trail system. Board member Joe Soley has been a particularly outspoken critic of Midtown in the past. Tonight he was more genial and less hostile than in the past. Board member Carol Morrissette maintained her stance that this third iteration needs more visual interest because it is a gateway to the City of Portland.
The developer, Jonathan Cox, CEO, of The Federated Cos. has said it would be too expensive to split this building in half – a demand of Kara Wooldrich, executive director of Portland Trails and others. There would be a significant loss of residential units to the development. Cox did not attend this evenings meeting, but Patrick Venne represented him as did Bo Kennedy (pictured above left.) Also present at the meeting was Cox’s local attorney who also attended the most recent February planning board meeting.. Also attending was the “construction” architect Thomas A. House, THA Architects, LLC. of New Hamshire.
When Venne, a former planning board member representing developer Cox asked the board if they could be more specific as to what changes they wanted to see to the design of the building, a discussion ensued over how much was too much advice for the board to give and whether its responses to Venne were “unconstitutionally vague” – a city attorney cautioned the board. Perhaps a basis for a legal challenge?
The board approved the Site Plan, but with a caveat that the developer must return with a proposal that satisfies its concerns – or not build Midtown on 3.5 acres of former industrial land in Bayside. A caveat that could doom the future of much-needed rental housing in Bayside and Portland generally. The Portland rental stock is among the oldest in the country – one less incentive for people to relocate here.
Attorney Venne said he would have to talk to Cox and others seeking clarification on “What just happened here,” he said. Venne did not rule out a lawsuit against the city.