October 24, 2013

New proposal reflects diversifying East End in Portland

The plan for a four-story building with homes and businesses adds to other upscale projects going up on Munjoy Hill.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Developers are planning a multilevel mixed-use building on Munjoy Hill, a neighborhood that’s now considered one of the most desirable in Portland.

The project is the latest in a series of development proposals in Portland’s East End. At least 84 units of mostly market-rate housing geared toward baby boomers are being built or planned.

“There are a lot people who would like to live on Munjoy Hill, for example, but they don’t want to live in the type of housing that exists right now,” said Jeff Levine, the city’s director of planning and urban development. “They’re thinking about getting older, retiring, and want to live in a flat so they don’t have to go up and down stairs.”

For the most part, Munjoy Hill residents are pleased that more people are discovering the charm of the neighborhood, which is made up primarily of older and affordable triple-decker apartment buildings, said Andrea Myhaver, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization.

But she said neighbors are concerned about maintaining that charm at a time when more apartment buildings are being upgraded to market-rate condominiums.

“We want the people who work here to be able to live here,” she said. “We want to keep the balance where people feel it’s a comfortable and affordable place to live and not overrun with high-end, impossible-to-afford places.”

The latest project on Munjoy Hill is planned at 118 Congress St., now the site of a one-story building and a parking lot. The building would be demolished and replaced by a four-story building with businesses on the first floor and homes on three levels.

The developer is 118 Congress Street LLC, an entity controlled by Ed Theriault and Chip Newell. To move forward, they are seeking a zone text change to increase the maximum height for mixed-use buildings from 45 feet to 50 feet.

A neighborhood meeting about the proposal is scheduled for 6 p.m. next Wednesday at the offices of TLA Architects, at 118 Congress St.

Tom Federle, an attorney who is assisting the developers, said Tuesday that the project is still in the early planning stages. “We don’t have much to share yet, but we will soon,” he said.

According to the developers’ application for a zone text change, the project would include commercial uses and parking on the first floor, with an estimated 12 condos on the upper three floors. The application does not indicate whether the condos would be offered at or below market rate.

Preliminary floor plans show the new building’s footprint as 8,632 square feet. A 1,029-square-foot retail space is envisioned at the corner of Congress and St. Lawrence streets. The rest of the first floor would be parking for 19 vehicles.

The upper three floors would have four units on each level, ranging in size from 1,380 square feet to 2,021 square feet. Each unit could come with a 545-square-foot deck.

The property is in a neighborhood business zone, which limits building heights to 45 feet. The developers are proposing to increase that to 50 feet for buildings that have a first-floor commercial use and homes on the upper floors.

The project is another sign of change in the historic neighborhood.

Munjoy Hill was in decline for decades and, by the 1980s, the once-respectable working-class stronghold was known as an unsafe area.

That trend has reversed, and Munjoy Hill is now 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 about $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, and two-bedroom apartments can rent for $1,100 to $1,800, landlords have said.

(Continued on page 2)

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