Planning Board Rules on Two Controversial Projects, With Public Input

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Proposed Hotel for New Development at 383 Commercial Street, Formerly the  Rufus Deering Co.   David Lloyd is the Architect.  This Was the Second Item on the Board’s Agenda This Evening.

Elizabeth Boepple, Outgoing Chairwoman of the Planning Board, Supported the MDP “With Reluctance.”

Lobstermen Wills Spears & Bill Coppersmith, VP of the Maine Lobstering Union Testified in Opposition to the Proposed Development at 383 Commercial Street This Evening.

A Rendering of the 383 Commercial Street Proposed Development Showing the Controversial “Bridge” Between the Hotel and Residences. Sean Dundon was Elected Chair of the Board and Brendon Mazer, Vice Chair of the Board This Evening.

This evening the Portland Planning Board ruled on two projects that have been controversial during their review by the city’s all volunteer board.  Not only have they both been controversial, but in large part for  similar reasons:  PARKING!

The board, chaired by the outgoing Elizabeth Boepple, gave unanimous approval on a site plan and subdivision review for a rental complex of three buildings at 510 Cumberland Avenue in the Parkside neighborhood of Portland, developed by Avesta Housing.

At issue for many of the neighbors was a request for fewer on-site parking spaces by Avesta which could/would force some renters to park on the street – causing an additional burden  because of the already tight parking along Deering Street and the immediate area. Avesta officials have pushed back all along that a sufficient number of their renters do not own vehicles to necessitate on-site parking for the 75 units. A Car-Share program will be available on site as well to offset the lack of on-site parking.

Responding to parking concerns of  Michael Patterson, area resident and former Planning Board member,  it agreed to monitor parking issues with multiple surveys following the occupancy of the complex.  The city’s traffic consultant, Tom Errico, told the planning board that he believed the parking plan for the complex was very fair and reasonable given all the factors involved.

Architect David Lloyd acknowledged that the 510 Cumberland Avenue, a/k/a Deering Place,  building is not a “beautiful building.” However, Lloyd continues to work with the HP Board to fine tune the facade of the building.  It’s  his intention to make it fit the historic neighborhood surrounding it.  (Please visit post herein dated August 17, 2017 for more background information on neighbors issues with the proposed Deering Place.)

An application by Deering Property Development, LLC, (Joe Dasco), received unanimous approval for its Master Development Plan, (“MDP”) for a mixed use development on the former site of Rufus Deering, once a lumber yard, at 383 Commercial Street as well.  The proposal calls for 203 residential condominiums, a 139 room hotel and parking garage on 2.5 acres of land in the B5b zone.  The proposal has already undergone five workshops during the last year and architect David Lloyd has made numerous changes to the proposal at the Board’s request.

A MDP review focuses on the “right to develop and a conceptual plan with details to be worked out at a later date,” according to Jeff Levine, Planning Office Director, who attended the meeting, presumably for Tuck O’Brien.   Levine said that details of the plan are subject to review during the site plan review. However,  board members were clearly preoccupied with their intense dislike of the proposed covered walkway between the hotel and condo residences – and presumably how the Board can use its power to get rid of it. Dasco told the board that he is very close to selling the hotel and the prospective purchaser likes the the covered walkway very much.  Caitlin Cameron, city’s urban designer, testified that the covered bridge is “tolerable.  The staff is okay with it.  It’s not as detrimental as it could be.”  Architect Lloyd said that he moved the bridge back further from the sidewalk and narrowed it to try to appease the Board.

It’s noteworthy that  Portland has similar covered walkways in the city; on the USM campus, Maine Medical Center has one on Congress Street and in Bill Needleman’s unveiling of a concept for the redevelopment of the Maine State Pier before the Economic Development Committee on November 28, 2017,  he recommended a similar covered pedestrian  walkway.  No board member stated exactly why he is opposed to it, but perhaps it could block someone’s view in the area?   (Please view post herein dated November 28, 2017 for more on the proposed “covered pedestrian bridge” for the Maine State Pier redevelopment.)

Dasco has developed several buildings in the India Street area and recently purchased a building across from the current Press Hotel that formerly was owned by “The Portland Press Herald” and used for its printing purposes.

Three Portland waterfront lobstermen testified in opposition to the proposal saying that the “fishing industry is in jeopardy.  We are not a weak, child of the city.  We are opposed to any non-marine use on Commercial Street that conflicts with the fishing industry,” said Keith Lane.  Willie Spears, a fisherman since 1964 said “These developments are biased against our moving perishable fish.  The city has no traffic plan for Portland.”  Bill Coppersmith told the Board that the “pictures don’t show the traffic.  They don’t show gridlock.  Where will you put everyone?”  (See above left photo.)

Meanwhile, the city is looking for matching funding to undertake a study of the traffic problems and discover solutions to the anticipated gridlock in the area.

Outgoing Chair Elizabeth Boepple said:  “I don’t find this project any more desirable than I did before.  I don’t have any choice but to approve this MDP because it meets code.  This is not the intended use of this zone.  There is too much residential use ’cause the code says it can be done.”

1 thought on “Planning Board Rules on Two Controversial Projects, With Public Input

  1. Bob, I have to learn how to do that. I know it would be a big improvement. Thanks for reminding me. Carol

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