Portland officials are set to begin reviewing a controversial proposal to construct an office building in South Portland that would house a regional branch of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

The project won site plan approval Tuesday from the South Portland Planning Board, but the developer must meet several conditions before construction can start on the property near the Portland International Jetport.

The building site is entirely in South Portland, but also is on the Portland boundary line and calls for several easements that require action by the Portland City Council and Planning Board. The project also needs permits from the Maine departments of transportation and environmental protection.

On Monday, the Portland City Council will consider granting road, sewer, gas and other utility access easements onto Jetport Boulevard, according to the agenda for the 7 p.m. meeting.

The easements are contractually required under a 1997 agreement between Portland and Brooklawn Memorial Park, the current owner of the building site. The agreement was signed when the city bought land from the memorial park for a jetport expansion project.

The agreement requires the council to grant the easements as long as the developer meets “applicable traffic safety requirements and regulatory restrictions,” according to a memo from Lawrence Walden, a city attorney. Walden recommended that the council grant the easements.

On March 11, the Portland Planning Board will consider waiving a state requirement for a joint meeting with the South Portland Planning Board to discuss an additional easement that the developer is seeking because it wants to build a separate employee access road from City Line Drive.

The easement needs approvals from both cities because it requires an amendment to the Jetport Business Park subdivision next door, said Steve Puleo, South Portland’s community planner.

Portland Planning Director Alex Jaegerman said he believes a joint meeting is unnecessary, but Portland officials have yet to determine whether the City Line Drive easement warrants administrative or Planning Board review.

Some Portland officials and social service advocates have opposed the state’s selection of the South Portland site because it would move DHHS offices from intown Portland. The offices have been on Marginal Way since the early 1990s.

State officials signed a contract in January with ELC Management Inc. of Portland to lease space for the DHHS and the state Department of Labor in a 75,000-square-foot building proposed for 151 Jetport Blvd.

The lease requires ELC Management, led by Eric and Kenneth Cianchette, to get all necessary state and local permits by March 15. Construction must start by April 16.

The two-story building with 425 parking spaces must be ready for occupancy sometime between Jan. 1, 2015, and Feb. 28, 2015, according to the lease.

The 30-year lease will save Maine taxpayers more than $23.4 million over the next three decades when compared with rates paid at the current DHHS offices at 161 Marginal Way, said H. Sawin Millett Jr., commissioner of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

The South Portland Planning Board approved the project’s site plan with three pages of conditions that include providing additional information, documentation, design plans, escrow account fees, performance guarantees and permits from state environmental and transportation officials, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has completed its review of the building and parking lot with the associated access drive from Jetport Boulevard, but it still needs a letter of authorization from the jetport allowing storm water from the project site to flow to the jetport’s storm sewer system, according to an email from Lisa Vickers, an environmental specialist.

Maine Department of Transportation officials visited the proposed building site last week to begin their review for a traffic movement permit. ELC plans to build an employee-only access road off City Line Drive to prevent traffic congestion on Jetport Boulevard near the main access road to the office building.

The DHHS must vacate its Marginal Way offices by Jan. 31 unless it negotiates a lease extension with its current landlord. Otherwise, the agency would have to find interim accommodations if the South Portland building isn’t finished.

The Cianchettes haven’t responded to repeated requests for comment since the selection of their proposal was announced in November. It was chosen over three other lease proposals submitted in response to the state’s advertised request.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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