PORTLAND — One of the city’s largest landowners is taking steps to transform nearly 3 acres between York and Danforth streets in the coming years.
The first step in that development focuses on the corner of High and York streets, which is now the location of the popular El Rayo Taqueria and Cantina. Both businesses are expected to be included in any redevelopment plan.
J.B. Brown & Sons owns more than 3 acres bounded by York, High, Danforth and Maple streets, much of which is now surface parking. The developer is seeking a zoning change to allow it to build a parking garage in the center of the parcel, which is now zoned as residential.
That would allow the company to construct buildings along Danforth, York and Maple streets, said Vincent Veroneau, president and chief executive officer of J.B. Brown & Sons.
“We’re always trying to position our assets,” Veroneau said. “There seems to be a fair amount of interest in this area and we’d like to be in a position to respond to that.”
Veroneau filed an application for the zoning change with the city on Aug. 22. The Planning Board will hold a workshop on the application Tuesday, and eventually will send a recommendation to the City Council, which has the final say.
In a letter to city planners, Veroneau said the company has no immediate plans to develop the property at 101 York St.
“It is essentially impossible to obtain a serious commitment from a user on a development plan that is not allowed by zoning,” Veroneau wrote. “Therefore we are seeking a zone change to allow us to properly land plan and market the parcel.”
A concept plan shows a four-story building at York and High streets, with retail on the ground floor and market-rate apartments on the upper levels. A two- or three-level parking garage would be behind the building, with access from Danforth Street.
Veroneau said in an interview that if the zoning change is granted, the company will begin studying the feasibility of creating about 30 apartments at the corner of York and High streets in the next two years or so.
Veroneau said El Rayo would be offered space in the new building and would not be forced off the site.
El Rayo General Manager Norine Kotts said she was not surprised when she was notified of the rezoning effort.
“It’s a prime piece of real estate that can be more things than just a taqueria,” Kotts said.
Before it was a restaurant, the property was a gas station that fell into disrepair. The restaurant owners put a lot of sweat into converting the building into a hip, colorful taqueria with outdoor seating and live music.
“We love this location. It’s been perfect to us,” Kotts said. “(The landlords) have been great to work with and we expect that would continue.”
In his letter to city planners, Veroneau says the development would be consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan and the Housing: Sustaining Portland’s Future report.
The housing report, dated 2002, highlights the need for a diverse housing stock with easy access to the downtown or public transportation, among other goals.
Veroneau said in his letter that the zoning change would encourage a development that would enhance pedestrian activity and walkability, and “bridge the area between the urban center and the high-density residential areas to the west.”
City planner Nell Donaldson said notices were sent to 170 residents who live within 500 feet of the parcel. “We haven’t heard a whole lot,” Donaldson said of the initial response, which has generally consisted of questions rather than concerns.
J.B. Brown & Sons owns an additional 53,000 square feet of land in the immediate area that is not part of the potential development.
According to its website, the company has a development pending in what is now a gravel parking lot at 57 York St. The company envisions 40,000 square feet of office space in a three-story building.
Veroneau said that project has not been submitted for planning approvals and only represents the type of development that is possible on the site.
The company has planning approval for 100,000 square feet of office space on West Commercial Street, but that project has not moved forward.
Since 1830, J.B. Brown & Sons has developed much of Congress Street, Commercial Street, the waterfront and the West End. Today, the company owns about 30 properties in Greater Portland, Veroneau said.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: