October 3, 2013

Developer’s plan for Munjoy Hill: 29 townhouses

Redfern Properties’ vision is an upscale, six-building complex, as Munjoy Hill surges in popularity.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — A local developer wants to put more than two dozen upscale townhouse-style condominiums on Munjoy Hill.

click image to enlarge

An artist’s rendering shows a view of Munjoy Heights, a 29-townhouse condominium development proposed for Walnut Street in Portland.

Ryan Senatore Architecture

click image to enlarge

An artist’s rendering of Munjoy Heights, a proposed condo development that would offer views of Back Cove, downtown Portland and, on clear days, the White Mountains.

Ryan Senatore Architecture


View Proposed Munjoy Heights site in a larger map

Portland-based Redfern Properties is proposing 29 townhouses in six separate buildings on Walnut Street. The units would be three to four stories, with rooftop decks and private garages. Twenty-four of the units would have their own private elevators.

Redfern Properties owner Jonathan Culley said the townhouse project, called Munjoy Heights, would be “the most progressive, energy-efficient” housing in the city, while offering views of Back Cove, downtown Portland and, on clear days, the White Mountains. The project is estimated to cost $15 million, Culley said. The target date for completion is fall 2014.

The townhouses have attracted buyer interest, according to Culley. Eleven of the units, which range from $540,000 to $700,000, are under contract, mostly to baby boomers, he said.

The proposal comes as demand for high-end properties appears to be strengthening in downtown Portland. This gentrification trend has been seen in several east end neighborhoods.

At least 60 percent of the 86 condominiums in the Bay House development at the corner of India and Hancock streets are under contract, and the project is not completed. Single-bedroom condos start at $295,000, two-bedrooms start at $380,000 and three-bedrooms start at $585,000. The most expensive Bay House unit sold for $825,000.

The Bay House developer also has another condominium project – Seaport Lofts – pending before the Portland Planning Board. That project calls for seven ground-floor townhouses and 32 single-story condominiums.

“There’s great energy around housing on the Portland peninsula, in particular new housing,” Culley said. “Certainly, Munjoy Hill is hot.”

Redfern Properties is buying seven separate properties, including undeveloped lots, totaling 1.5 acres to make room for the Munjoy Hill development.

If the project is approved, a four-unit apartment building at 79 Walnut St. and a single-family home at 1 East Cove St. would be demolished. Culley said he is working with Portland Trails to draft an easement to preserve an existing trail, known as Jack Path, on the wooded portion of the property.

A neighborhood meeting is scheduled for Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at the East End Community School. The Planning Board has scheduled a workshop on Oct. 22.

Munjoy Hill had been on a downward slide for decades by the 1980s, and the once respectable working-class stronghold gained a reputation as an unsafe area.

That trend has reversed, and Munjoy Hill has become a coveted neighborhood, attracting hipsters and baby boomers alike. New businesses and art galleries have opened along Congress Street and old homes are being remodeled and converted into upscale condominiums.

Two homes on the Eastern Promenade have each sold for roughly $1.5 million in recent years. One-bedroom apartments that cost $700 to $750 a month a decade ago are now renting for $1,000 a month, while two-bedrooms can rent for $1,100 to $1,800, landlords have said.

Even condominiums being built by Avesta Housing, one of New England’s largest affordable housing developers, at the former Adams School on Munjoy Hill seem to be pushing the boundaries of affordability.

A 997-square-foot, two-bedroom condo is listed for $235,000, while a 1,513-square-foot, three-bedroom sold for $295,000. Twelve of the 16 units have been sold, reserved or placed under contract, according to Avesta’s website.

The Munjoy Heights development would eliminate roughly five existing housing units, including four apartments at 79 Walnut St. The landlord at that property, Katherine Richmond, said she didn’t feel comfortable speaking with a reporter about the rents being charged without first talking to her business partner.

City Councilor Kevin Donoghue recently described gentrification as a “juggernaut” on Munjoy Hill.

Andrea Myhaver, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, said there is a lot of buzz about gentrification on the hill, but people aren’t yet overly concerned.

Myhaver said she and other members of the neighborhood organization look forward to learning more about the proposed development.

“No one is raising any alarms to us,” she said.

Redfern Properties, in partnership with LWS Investments, is also preparing to break ground this fall on West End Place – 39 luxury apartments with monthly rents ranging from $1,300 to $2,500 – in a 43-foot-tall building at the corner of Pine and Brackett streets in the West End.

That project would include two ground-floor retail units and an internal parking garage.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:rbillings@mainetoday.comrbillings@mainetoday.com Twitter: @randybillings@randybillings

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