The rush to build market-rate housing on Munjoy Hill is continuing, with two new proposals providing further evidence of the hot real estate market on Portland’s peninsula.
One project going before the Planning Board on Tuesday would be built on a steep grade, supported by stilts. The other, which has not been formally presented, would require the demolition of a vacant church to make room for construction.
Other condominiums and apartments are under construction and being rented and sold fast, for as much as $700,000. “It’s like a feeding frenzy,” said one developer, Peter Bass.
Munjoy Hill had declined for decades and, by the 1980s, was known as an unsafe area. But that trend has reversed, with new businesses and art galleries opening along Congress Street, and old homes being remodeled and converted into upscale condominiums.
Andrea Myhaver, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, has said residents are generally pleased that more people are discovering the charm of their neighborhood, which is made up primarily of older and affordable triple-decker apartment buildings. But they are concerned about gentrification, and the possibility that working-class people will be forced out by higher rents.
Bass is proposing a four-story condominium complex called the Marquis Lofts for a site on Lafayette Street where a single-story church now stands. He bought the church this summer from the International Christian Fellowship, which outgrew the space and moved to Westbrook. The church was built in 1951 and is not considered historic.
The church would be demolished and replaced by six 900-square-foot condos with balconies, built above an enclosed parking area on the first floor. The building, being designed by architect Evan Carroll, would be made of gray-and-blue concrete clapboards.
Bass would not provide an estimated construction cost or a target price for the condos. His goal is to sell each unit for less than those in other market-rate projects, some of which are going for $500,000 or more.
“My goal is to be considerably under that price,” Bass said. “I think it’s a project that’s equally attractive – if not more so – to the 30- to 40-year-old crowd” as it is to baby boomers.
Land for new housing is hard to find on Munjoy Hill, he said, so “there are few easy projects left.”
less-THAN-ideal land in demand
Another new market-rate project is proposed for a piece of steeply sloping land on Sheridan Street, overlooking Washington Avenue and Back Cove. Because of the 45-degree slope, the building would need pier supports as tall as 14 feet for the ground floor.
The $1.5 million project would add five market-rate units at 152-156 Sheridan St., behind the state Department of Corrections office on Washington Avenue.
The top-floor unit, which would be about 2,400 square feet and include a large outdoor deck, would be built for a local heart surgeon who wants to live on Munjoy Hill, said the architect, David Lloyd. The four apartments – one townhouse and three flats, starting at 1,300 square feet – would be rented, but could be sold as condos in the future.
Lloyd said the demand for housing on Munjoy Hill is so strong and the land is so scarce that people are looking at every opportunity, regardless of challenges and costs on any site.
“People are looking at sites they would have turned their noses up at 10 to 15 years ago,” he said.
The project is the second proposed on that hillside, which extends to Walnut Street.
Portland-based Redfern Properties is proposing 29 townhouses in six separate buildings on Walnut Street, with retaining walls to support the buildings on the slope. The energy-efficient units would be three or four stories, with rooftop decks and private garages. Twenty-four of the units would have their own elevators.
Redfern Properties owner Jonathan Culley said last month that 11 of the units, priced at $540,000 to $700,000, are under contract, mostly to baby boomers.
Another condo project is being proposed at 118 Congress St. An existing business would be demolished and replaced by a four-story building with businesses on the first floor and 12 high-end units on the upper floors. The condos would range in size from 1,380 to 2,021 square feet.
OTHER NEW UNITS GOING QUICKLY
Avesta Housing, one of New England’s largest affordable-housing developers, is building condos at the former Adams School on Munjoy Hill. Although the units are intended to be affordable to middle-income families, a 997-square-foot, two-bedroom condo is listed for $235,000, and a 1,513-square-foot, three-bedroom condo sold for $295,000. Twelve of the 16 units have been sold, reserved or put under contract, according to Avesta’s website.
At the base of Munjoy Hill, new condominiums in the India Street neighborhood are being sold as fast as they’re being built.
At least 60 percent of the 86 condos in the Bay House development are under contract, and the project at the corner of India and Hancock streets isn’t even complete. Prices for single-bedroom condos start at $295,000, two-bedroom condos start at $380,000 and three-bedroom units start at $585,000. The most expensive unit in Bay House sold for $825,000.
Phase II of the project, Seaport Lofts, has been approved by the Planning Board. That project calls for seven ground-floor townhouses and 32 single-story condominiums.
Bass said he believes the rental market will remain strong for years to come.
“People are making money on rental units,” he said. “It will take quite a while for it to change.”
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: