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January 3, 2013

Portland developer to refine design of $38 million project

PORTLAND – Developers of an ambitious residential and commercial project in Bayside are headed back to the drawing board to address concerns over how the complex could affect views and the city's skyline.

Originally, the project envisioned seven 14-story towers to be built along Somerset Street. Preliminary plans for Maritime Landing included as many as 700 residences, retail space and two parking garages.

The Planning Board was scheduled to review a master plan and a request for zone changes for the project Tuesday. But Greg Shinberg, who is representing the developer, Federated Cos., said the company has requested the meeting be postponed until later this month so the building designs can be refined to reduce the visual impact.

"It's fair to say we're going to make big changes from the original scheme," Shinberg said Wednesday. "The configuration of the housing towers will change. We're looking at trying to improve the impact on the skyline."

Developers are sensitive about the impact and are trying to develop a project that shows the city in its best light, said Jeff Levine, the city's Planning and Urban Development director.

"It's a very high-profile project in an important redevelopment area," Levine said. "We're trying to make sure this project comes out wonderfully. It is going to be one of the first things people see when they come into town on the highway."

The Planning Board largely supported the proposed development during a November workshop, but expressed some concerns over the seven-tower layout.

Preliminary designs indicate views from the area around Elm, Cedar and Myrtle streets could be affected. Planned building heights, which could reach 165 feet, could block views of Back Cove and local landmarks from some areas.

Among the residents to be affected by the towers are those living at the Chestnut Street Lofts on the corner of Chestnut Street and Cumberland Avenue, which overlook Back Cove.

Condo association president Jan Williams said residents of the 37-unit condo building likely have varied opinions about the project. Many support the economic impact of the development, while others are worried about the design.

Williams has formed a committee to learn more about the project and its potential impact. That committee is expected to report back to the association, which likely will take a position on the project during the public review process, he said.

Neighborhood leaders, meanwhile, are excited about how the project's market-rate housing could transform Bayside, a former industrial area with scrap yards that is now an epicenter for social services.

"(Bringing in) more people really enhances the neighborhood because there is more activity day-to-day," said Steve Hirshon, president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association. "And that's what we need."

Concerns over sight lines and the skyline also were raised in 2008 when the Intermed building and the Bayside Village were proposed. But some neighbors appear willing to accept a new view.

Cumberland Avenue resident and neighborhood association member Ron Spinella expects to lose his view of Back Cove, but he accepts that.

"I don't own the view," Spinella said. "I'm glad something's moving forward. It's pretty exciting knowing the neighborhood will grow. I'm not offended by the tall buildings."

Federated Cos. currently has a purchase and sale agreement to buy 3.25 acres of city land along Somerset Street for $2.2 million.

The full build-out still is expected to take place over three phases and include up to 700 residences, 90,000 square feet of retail and two parking garages for about 1,110 vehicles.

The first phase of the project was estimated earlier to cost $38 million. It would include a 700-space parking garage and, as of this week, two residential towers with retail space and up to 180 residences.

Earlier this year, the city provided Federated, which has offices in Miami and Boston, with a $9.07 million grant to help pay for construction of the $15 million 700-space parking garage.

Of that $9.07 million, $8.2 million would come from a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city would be responsible for repaying the loan and an estimated $2.8 million in interest from property tax revenues.

Developers need some zoning changes to build the project as envisioned.

There are two separate zoning districts for the property, one limiting height to a maximum of 125 feet (with a possible 165 feet if conditions are met); the other limiting height to 55 feet (with a possible 105 feet, if conditions are met).

Much of the project is being proposed in the more restrictive zoning district, so the developer is recommending rezoning that land to allow for the taller buildings.

The developer is also asking the city to waive the conditions that would be required to increase the height limit to 165 feet, such as reducing setbacks and top-floor design standards meant to minimize the shadowing effects and preserve view corridors.

"The implication for Maritime Landing is that the upper stories of the building would have limited floor area because of the step backs, which would have an impact on total number of dwelling units," the staff wrote.

The developer is also asking the city to approve a master plan for the project, even though one is not required.

That change would extend the allowed time frame for development from the current requirement that construction start within one year (with a possible three-year extension) to allowing it to start within four years (with two, one-year extensions possible).

The developers are also altering their plan in light of the Somerset Street flood that resulted when a 20-inch water main ruptured several weeks ago. Now, developers are looking to increase the base height of their buildings to be 12 feet above high tide.

Even with the delays, Shinberg said Federated Cos. is eager to get the project under way.

"We're really on course to start this project as soon as possible," Shinberg said. "We have a very aggressive schedule but we also have to respect the process."

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings





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