Condo Building Boom on Munjoy Hill Escalates; Neighborhood Meeting Tonight

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Chip Newell, Susan Morris & Jed Rathburn, Development Team at "118 Congress on  Munjoy Hill."

Chip Newell, Susan Morris & Jed Rathband, Part of Development Team at “118 on Munjoy Hill.” Rathburn is Sales Manager.

By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,663)

Yesterday afternoon at its workshop meeting, the City’s Planning Board considered the applications of two proposed condominium projects for Munjoy Hill. Both developers decided to proceed onto a public hearing at which time the Board will decide whether or not to approve the applications of two very different types of condominium projects.

First up was the cavalier development team for “118 on Munjoy Hill” – a luxury, high-end 12 unit, 2 commercial units and ground floor parking within the building for 18 vehicles targeting “Boomers,” according to promotional material provided at the workshop.  Described by the team as a “role model for future building patterns on the Hill,” the planning board praised the architecture and articulation on the front of the building.  Board member Jack Soley said that for a change it does not look like an “industrial wall.”  However, city arborist wrote a scathing evaluation dated December 12, about the project:  “The lack of any landscape greening, planters and removing available space for street trees is like no other project in recent memory. Reducing tree space is counter to over 20 years of greening efforts and street tree planting in the Munjoy Hill…….area.”

Tarling’s memo concerned  the “proposed building overhangs over the sidewalk seriously effect street-tree  growth and are strongly opposed as shown.  The building overhang eliminates ALL future shade tree/street tree possibilities and is unacceptable as it changes the character of Congress Street…” Board members asked Chip Newell, developer to find more space to resolve these issues for the public hearing. It’s also expected that “the foundation footing will encroach the street right of way.  A city license will be required for this.” Board member Jack Soley advised the team that with all the amenities planned,  including a dog wash, a workshop area, kayak storage, etc. you should be able to find some extra space to satisfy the city arborist. The project has received permission from the City Council to increase the building height to 50 ft. to improve the distant harbor views as well as ostensibly to allow higher ceilings for the two retailers on the ground floor. That permission was given Monday night with three councilors voting against the height extension; one was District 1 Councilor Donoghue.

The development team for the “118 on Munjoy Hill” is holding a neighborhood meeting tonight, Wednesday, December 18th,  at East End School, at 6 PM.

Neighbors of the 118 on Munjoy Hill condos expressed concern in letters as well as at the workshop about the massive size of the building. Susan Baker-Kaplan, a Congress Street  property owner on Munjoy Hill since the 1980s, was “shocked at the size.  It’s a blot on the skyline which can never be removed. The enhancements in the air and over the sidewalk are too big.”  A sentiment echoed by others.

Real estate developer Peter Bass, d/b/a Random Orbit, Inc. presented his preliminary plans for a six unit residential condominium lofts at 33-35 Lafayette Street on the site of a relocated church that moved to Westbrook; Marquis Lofts. In his introductory remarks, Hill resident Bass said:  “This is an affordable housing project.  It’s different from others on the Hill applying.  My building will be more moderately priced  that the previous proposal,” he said.

The same foundation will be used and because of the developer’s inability to get an easement on other property to accommodate parking, the allocated parking spaces will be a tight squeeze for larger vehicles.  Chair Carol Morrisette said she believed that the real estate market would compensate for that issue.  Neighbors testified about their concern about parking in the area and the massiveness of the building.  Neighbor Peggy Johnson said the building does not look like it belongs there.  “People are changing Munjoy Hill to Boston.”

Board member Jack Soley said the applicant is not coming to us for  variances.  It was formerly a church with on-site parking.  We are not going to design your building.  It’s not our job  Wha we need is to break up the facade – to make it look less massive, so it doesn’t look so   monolithic.”   Chair Carol Morrisette said she is “comfortable with the project.  People moving to Portland don’t want cars we hear.  They should move here,” she said to much laughter.  She urged the local development team to “push the design further – take it to the full extent you can.”