By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,686)
Late this evening the Portland Planning Board approved Phase 1 of the proposed Midtown development – as many expected it would do, despite the reservations of influential board member Jack Soley and the opposition of a group co-founded by Peter Monro, KeepPortlandLivable.
Last month, the planning Board tabled a vote on the application this month because of the lateness of the night and that two of its members had to make the last ferry over to Peaks Island. . In the meantime, Federated Cos., the Miami-based developer, revised the proposal somewhat. The inclusion of new material in the proposal opened up the opportunity for another round of public comment at the meeting. The new material was primarily the developers agreement to raise a portion of the Bayside Trail to mitigate effects of future flooding in the area. Despite this concession, Peter Monro called for the Planning Board to delay its vote one more time to research more in-depth the impact of wind in the Bayside area. Ben Pollard, a developer who lives on the Eastern Promenade, urged a delay in the vote to study potential traffic problems “to avoid legal fees.” The number testifying in opposition heavily outweighed those testifying in favor of the development. The non-profit has 30 days to appeal the matter in court, although it is not clear whether or not it will do so.
Those testifying in favor said among other things that the city is trying to attract a younger generation “from away” for whom housing of this type will be appealing. It will also go a long way toward replacing the units lost due to old, run-down buildings and units lost due to condominium conversion of housing stock in the area. This is an important opportunity to bring “state-of-the-art” rental housing to Portland.
At the end of the public comment period around 9:00 pm., Planning Board member Beth Boepple said to the overflow crowd: “I can’t make my decision based on an emotional appeal. It’s the Comprehensive Plan that exists today and we have to apply that to our decision, not emotion.” However, the Comprehensive Plan is not a legally binding document. Jack Soley said: “I’m not a fan of this project. But it is my charge to use the ordinance to apply to this. I will follow the guidelines and approve it. Another Board member, Bill Hall expressed concern that the project will be left at one building and flipped over to another developer. “This has it risks,” he said.