PORTLAND — Limited parking and hazardous vehicle access are among the concerns facing a proposed mixed-income apartment complex that Avesta Housing wants to build on Cumberland Avenue.
At a workshop meeting on Tuesday, the Planning Board also heard concerns about an outdoor courtyard that some neighbors and board members fear would attract vagrants who now frequent the vacant lot for illicit activities, such as drug use.
One neighbor, Liz Roberts, told the board that it would be “insane” to have open space on the property at 409 Cumberland Ave., which is bounded by Mechanic Street on one side and Forest Avenue on the other.
“I have grave concerns for the utility of that park,” said board member Jack Soley.
Avesta representatives promised to address concerns about the 57-unit building before the board holds a public hearing and votes on the $10 million project in the weeks ahead.
“We feel strongly that our approach is the right approach, but we need to explain it better,” said Seth Parker, Avesta’s senior development officer.
The nonprofit housing development and management company plans to install fencing, lighting and security cameras to control public access to the small courtyard off Mechanic Street.
Last week, the City Council approved a zoning change to allow the project. Two-thirds of the cost would be financed with low-income housing tax credits through the Maine State Housing Authority, Parker said.
If the Planning Board approves the project, construction would start in December and be completed within a year.
Despite various concerns, several neighbors and board members said Avesta’s four-story proposal is better than the 12-story, 94-unit condominium that was planned for the site nearly a decade ago.
The $25 million Waterview condo proposal failed in the face of neighborhood opposition and the recession that hit in 2008.
Avesta used the same development team that Waterview developer Jeff Cohen hired back in 2005 — CWS Architects, Mitchell & Associates and Haley & Aldrich, all of Portland.
“They brought continuity to the project,” Parker said before the workshop meeting at City Hall. “They each had ideas about the site and how to develop it.”
Neighbors and board members appear to be divided on the parking and vehicle access issues.
The proposal calls for 18 parking spaces rather than the one-per-unit required under city regulations. While some agreed that the building would attract tenants who don’t need on-site parking, others questioned whether it would increase demand for limited street parking.
City officials and Avesta representatives said they will survey similar residential buildings in the city to determine the minimum number of spaces. If the board decides that the project needs more spaces, Avesta likely would have to provide them at another location.
The building’s driveway would be on Mechanic Street, a steep, narrow, one-way street that runs from Portland Street to Cumberland Avenue. Some neighbors and board members worried that traffic to and from the apartment complex would be hazardous, especially in winter.
“There’s an acknowledgement that Avesta is a good property manager and we’re banking on that,” said Steve Hirshon, president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association.
Eleven units would be leased at market rates ranging from $825 to $1,400 per month, while 46 subsidized units would go for $669 to $1,030 per month for households with incomes ranging from $25,000 to $40,000.
Avesta is pitching the project as a “healthy living community,” featuring public space on the first floor that would include a demonstration kitchen suitable for cooking lessons and a community room for exercise classes, Parker said.
It also may include a rooftop garden and greenhouse where residents would be able to grow their own food, if Avesta can raise additional funding to support the project, Parker said.
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: