By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,261)
The current Midtown application to develop land in the vicinity of Somerset, Chestnut and Elm Streets was scuttled at city hall this evening. The developer, Federated Cos., requested a public hearing before the Board for January 13th because the company has its own deadline with KeepPortlandLivable; the nonprofit that sued the developer, but that won’t happen now. The application is DOA.
Resuscitation of a new application already on life-support was a large enough challenge for the developer of the proposed Midtown project, but given its own financial restraints, it proved an impossible task for Federated Cos to overcome at its second workshop before the planning board this evening. Planners were hard-pressed to say anything positive in the dramatically scaled back version of the first proposal. They told the development team that they could not support this proposal as presented to the board.
At the board’s meeting November 12th, (Post # 2,228 herein) planners expressed concerns about the inferior quality of the building materials (EFIS) to be used as well as the lack of accessibility to the significantly underused Portland Trail through Building # 3 of the four building development. Those concerns were not addressed for the planners tonight. In fact, the developer asked for waivers for these two issues as well as many others. David Hancock, the Boston-based architect for Midtown, tried to put on the best case possible, but it did not mollify the board. Of on-going concern to board chair Stuart (Tuck) O’Brien was the developer’s request for a permit to develop the entire property in one phase, rather than in three (3) phases as is the customary process followed by the board. At one point, Chair O’Brien said he wished that members of the KeepPortlandLivable non-profit were present to advise.
Planner Jack Soley did not mince words when he called the architecture of the development “tedious and mundane…there’s a lack of good design for an extremely visible place in Bayside – the face of Portland.” If economics is the driving force of this project…then don’t build the building he said, referring to “warehouse” looking building # 3, the center of the board’s exasperation.
Chair O’Brien instructed staff members to “reconvene with developers to find a way forward. There are just masses of information we don’t have on this project,” he said. Future board workshops will be divided into specific topics in order to cover them more thoroughly, he said.
David Hancock, architect for Midtown said following the meeting: “It’s back to the drawing board.”
editor;s note: 12/10/14 “Based on the planning board’s decision, I intend to sit with our City Manager and see where we go from here,” said Mayor Michael Brennan this afternoon.