By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,228)
The development team for a new proposal for the Midtown Project appeared before the city’s planning board late this afternoon. It was the board’s first look at a new application for a dramatically scaled back version of the original proposal from Federated Companies, a Miami-based developer. In January of this year, the planning board granted the developer a number of approvals for the project. Subsequent to that, a law suit was filed by KeepPortlandLivable against the developer. An agreement was recently reached by both parties which permits the developer to proceed in exchange for reducing the project extensively.
The new application reduces the maximum residential height from 165 to 72 feet. The number of residential units has been reduced from 650 units to 440 units. The 700 space parking garage will add another level, bringing the total number of spaces to 800 spaces. The 400 space parking deck west of Chestnut Street has been eliminated. Retail remains a first floor use for the four buildings. The proposal calls for the project to be built-in one phase only, requiring only one building permit for the entire four buildings from the city. A request that brought some skepticism from board members. There was also a request to permit the use of a building material – EFIS – not known for its longevity, as well as the construction of a wooden frame.
At the outset of the three-hour meeting, Chairman Stuart O’Brion said it was his intention to “expedite” the permitting process, but it may not be realistic to do so. And by the comments of the board, an expedited process may well not be realistic. Board member Elizabeth Boepple, clearly annoyed with the proposal, was most critical in her remarks when she said she did not like the project. “It’s not compatible with the vision of Bayside. It’s not a good project on many, many levels and is being rushed through.” Carol Morrissette asked the planning staff when is meeting the minimum requirements good enough for Bayside? In a diverse community, there is no diversity in this monolithic building and it will stand out in a barren area like Bayside she said.
Finally, Jonathan Cox, 36, chairman of The Federated Companies addressed the planning board late in the meeting and said that on the first application over $1 million had been spent. Cox said this space was a hard spot for which to design. “We were never enthusiastic with the outcome. This was the best we could do with what we were working with.” Referring to the lawsuit with KeepPortlandLivable, “We saw this as an endless cycle and we wanted to end that cycle.”
Finally, he admitted that midtown is under a timeline under the agreement with KeepPortlandLivable. If midtown does not obtain all its permitting by January 2015, the agreement “falls apart.”, Cox said.
“We are in this for long-haul. We will not give up,” said Cox following the meeting tonight.