Donoghue Targets 58 Fore Street for ‘Inclusionary Zoning’

Michael and David Discatio, Two of the Three Brothers Who Have Entered into a Partnership with Jonathan Culley, Redfern Properties.

Michael and David Discatio, Two of the Three Brothers Who Have Entered into a Partnership with Jonathan Culley, Redfern Properties, to Redevelop 665 Congress Street; Formerly Joe’s Smoke Shop.

Architect's Rendering of a Proposed Redevelopment of  665 /Congress Street.

Architect’s Rendering of a Proposed Redevelopment of 665 /Congress Street.

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 2,238)

Inclusionary zoning is the latest buzz word around city hall these days. If you haven’t heard it yet:

It’s a zoning prac\tice that requires developers of ten (10) or more than residential units to set aside 10% of those units for those at or below the median income level.  The idea was unsuccessfully floated around city hall last year, but it has resurfaced recently. Possibly the movement is a backlash against  the high-end residential construction happening on Munjoy Hill – such as 118 Munjoy Hill – with its  “in your face” presence.  Or maybe the movement is to pacify and mollify a block of District 1 voters  who makeup the SoulsofPortland – an ad hoc group dedicated to stopping the development of 58 Fore Street – a mission the Souls, led by attorney Barbara Vestal,  have pursued unsuccessfully so far. The Souls have evolved into advocates for affordable housing as well. This concession to the Souls  could help them to save face on Munjoy Hill. Or, it could be a way to increase affordable housing on the peninsula. Take your pick!

Last night the Housing & Community Development Committee listened to a presentation by Jeff Levine, Director of the Planning Office, about the merits of inclusionary zoning (“IZ“)  IZ could help alleviate the low rental vacancy that Portland has, but it would not be a panacea for the lack of affordable housing.  Other steps are needed to accomplish that. Following that, the Committee  listened to testimony from local developers who believe it could backfire if implemented by the City.  Leading the developers’ opposition was Jonathan Culley, Redfern Properties. Culley is a prominent developer in Portland  with multiple developments in various stages of production. He’s able to do this he told the Committee because of low interest rates – of 4 1/2%.  But that rate will increase and when that happens, IZ will prevent similar projects from entering the development pipeline Culley told the Committee. Other developers testified against the “IZ,” but no one testified in favor of its implementation.

Chris O’Neil, liaison betwen the city and the Portland Community Chamber, said that the IZ is nothing more than a tax on developers and is opposed to it. A Task Force is addressing the subject and will release its recommendations in the near future

Committee member and councilor David Brennerman said he would have to be convinced IZ would work.  “Let’s have an experimental area to see if it works.  Are developers willing to do this?” he asked.  “Development might not happen at the level we want because of the IZ.  We need to inject some economic realism here.  We might not get the type of development we want.”

Committee chair Donoghue said:  “We want to remove  barriers to all types of housing. We should look at high value  areas for IZ.  That’s why we should focus on the eastern waterfront.”  The debate will continue.

Meanwhile, Culley has filed paperwork with Portland requesting a zoning map amendment for his his plan  to redevelop 665 Congress Street into a 132 unit rental building, eight stories high.  The property is the original site of Joe’s Smoke Shop, renamed Joe’s Super Variety. Culley has formed a partnership with the three brothers who own the property, Michael, David and Steven Discatio which would permit their popular store to remain in its current location – just brand new. “We are very aware of the facade of the building.  It’s important that it fit into  the historical context of the area,” said Culley.  “That’s why it will be built of red brick.”  The proposed building is also shorter than the adjacent building. The other developments in which Culley and his wife are involved are:  Munjoy  Heights, West End Place and a large rental building on Anderson Street in  Bayside.  Culley and his partners hope to break ground on Congress Street by the end of 2015 and open in 2017.