By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,688)
It’s hard to know where to start because it was such a devastating critique of a proposed condo development at 30 Merrill Street on Munjoy Hill. The presentation by Evan Carroll, architect, seemed so beyond his pay grade and maybe a ruse to ignore the fundamentals that the unprofessional presentation was squishy-squashy from its onset.. The presentation was for Banner Properties, LLC earlier this evening at the East End Community School, North Street as required by the city.
Caitlin Cameron, Urban Designer, of the City’s planning department, is it’s representative on the project. .It’s being reviewed under the R-6 infill ordinance that permits cost cutting measures that are offensive to many Hill residents. Carroll acknowledged that Cameron has requested more “iteration” in the proposal. The R-6 infill ordinance was championed by former Green City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, once the Chair of the City’s Housing Committee.
Although none of the ten (10) or so attending neighbors used those words to describe what they saw, they clearly didn’t like what they saw and told Evan Carroll, architect and Mike Boissonneau, one of the developers, what they thought. It looked like an underhanded “get rich scheme.” On the other hand, Boissonneau, a Portland native, said that he was proud of the proposal and the contribution it would make to Munjoy Hill.
Architect Carroll skipped quickly over the customary basic description of the project. Rather, he pushed on to promote the energy efficiency benefits of the boring exterior of the metal building. Carroll focused on its energy efficiency – a strategy he was called out for as a “ruse” to ignore issues with the development.itself. He had to be prodded to acknowledge that the four-story building has no elevator, units have no closet space; and that four of the six on site parking spots would be dedicated to compact cars only rather than standard sized vehicles. Suppose those no laundry facility onsite as well. Right? Carroll could not say how much land the development would occupy. No provisions for trash removal are part of the plan. Unit owners must purchase city of Portland trash bags for garbage disposal. Energy efficiency was Carroll’s selling card, although he did not elaborate on the matter. Solar panels? Who knows?
Carroll, a Hill resident, is also the architect for property at 65 Munjoy Street developed by Peter Bass and Ethan Boxer-Macomber, d/b/a Adams Apple LLC. The project on some left over Marada F. Adams School property was sued by six neighbors because of poor design on an infill project. The suit was settled out of court recently. Bass and his wife sit on Portland city government boards and commissions.
In fact, the proposed Merrill Street development is a recycled version of the nearby Marquis Lofts, condo development at 33 Lafayette Street. Marquis Lofts the development by Hill resident Peter Bass, d/b/a Random Orbit, had parking issues, no elevator, no unit closets, and an exterior that did not fit in with the neighborhood. The planning board approved it, saying that the parking issues would resolve themselves through real estate sales. The units were very slow to sell.. Carroll is the architect on that building as well.
Despite criticism throughout the presentation at the Community Room at the EECS, Carroll said he was passionate about his work as he is about this project in particular. The developer said all projects are very subjective and that he is proud of this one. The two briefly outlined the process going forward and that there will be more opportunities for opinions to be expressed at city meetings. The strong criticism came from other neighbors in the room who did not identify themselves. They focused on the incompatibility of this design with the rest of the neighborhood. Carroll justified his design when he said it is a triple-decker like other structures in the area and that it is similar in style to his design at 33 Lafayette Street, previously referenced. A design that neighbors on Lafayette Street still find offensive.
Don Head, a resident of 118 Congress Street told the architect: “It’s an ugly block.” Katy Haskleroad, a nearby home owner asked: “What are we going to look at every day?” A Merrill Street resident Peter Adams was particularly outspoken is his criticism of the proposal. “This is an embarrassment.” You are using cheap construction. It’s an unimaginative design. “Go back to the drawing board.”