This story was updated at 10:25 a.m. 1/18/14 to correct size of garage

 

The Portland Planning Board reached the right decision Tuesday by approving a $105 million high-rise development for Bayside.

Called “midtown” by developers, the project could add 650 to 850 market rate apartments and 100,000 square feet of retail space over the next decade on a vacant industrial lot. The first phase calls for a 165-foot residential tower and a federally funded 700-car garage.

The project has attracted serious opposition, and it was not universally popular with members of the Planning Board, who said they objected to its scale and architectural style. But the Planning Board is not a design committee, and it rightly focused on whether the project complied with zoning regulations and the city’s comprehensive plan.

It did. The neighborhood is zoned for tall buildings and the comprehensive plan calls for structured parking and mixed uses.

One of the ironies of this project is that opponents say it shows that city officials are overly supportive of business and too willing to bend the rules for a developer.

They may be surprised to hear that developers find Portland a very difficult place to work because of its complex politics and anti-development activism. That is a reputation that hurts the city.

When listing “midtown’s” faults, opponents fail to recognize that this is a project that has considerable benefits, even for those who don’t like the design. It reclaims a blighted property, and the development would include infrastructure improvements that will be needed to keep the low-lying neighborhood above water as sea levels rise. The Federated Company is not seeking a tax break (although it would benefit from the publicly funded garage), making it the kind of development that will generate revenue that supports schools and other services.

Midtown opponents say they are considering appealing the decision to Superior Court, but they might do better to work with the developer and see if there are changes that could be made to the project that could make it more palatable to them without a wasteful lawsuit. Portland needs a tax revenue from development, as well as a variety of housing and amenities for it to remain an economically diverse city that offers a home to people from a variety of incomes.

Fighting this project will not slow the housing shortage which is making all peninsula neighborhoods artificially expensive. The character of the city that opponents say they want to preserve is just as likely to be wiped out by excess demand for housing as it is by a building that is a little taller than the ones around it.

There is still a lot of work to be done in Bayside. Citizen groups should find a way to work with developers and not just fight them.