February 13

Opponents of Portland towers will ask court to stop project

The group claims city officials failed to uphold rules and standards in approving the midtown development.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A group of residents and business owners said Wednesday they will ask a court to halt the $100 million “midtown” project recently approved for Portland’s Bayside neighborhood.

click image to enlarge

A rendering shows the Pearl Street elevation of the midtown development, which calls for up to four residential and retail towers and two parking garages on Somerset Street in Portland.

Drawing courtesy of The Federated Companies

Opponents claim the project, which calls for four, 165-foot tall towers along Somerset Street, does not conform to the city’s comprehensive plan and land use ordinances.

Peter Monro, a co-founder of Keep Portland Livable, which formed to oppose the project, said the group tried to work within the city approval process to have their concerns addressed.

The group contends the project will block views and become a funnel for high winds between buildings, among other criticisms.

“But with City Hall determined to build at any cost, the developer has lacked any incentive to compromise,” Monro said in a prepared statement. “The Planning Board has failed in its duty to uphold the rules and standards that have made Portland a great small city.”

The group will appeal the approval in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Keep Portland Livable, which claims to have more than 600 members, has been raising funds for a potential legal challenge since its inception.

The group hired attorney Sandra Guay to help articulate its concerns throughout the planning process.

The group recently estimated it would cost $50,000 to fight the approval in court.

Greg Shinberg, the local consultant for Miami-based developer Federated Cos., said the appeal was “very unfortunate.” Shinberg had hoped opponents would work with Federated to make a better project.

“It is very clear that (Monro) has misused the facts to pursue his personal agenda,” Shinberg said in an email. “This sends the wrong message to any business or individual that would consider investing in Portland, Maine.”

The Planning Board approved the $105 million project on Jan. 14.

The vote closed more than two years of discussion about the project.

The plan, vetted at six workshops and two public hearings, calls for construction of four 165-foot towers on Somerset Street over the next 10 years.

Federated Cos. plans to buy about 3.25 acres of city-owned land on Somerset Street for the development.

In all, the project calls for 650 to 850 market-rate apartments in four towers of about 15 stories each, 1,100 parking spaces in two garages and 100,000 square feet of retail space on Somerset Street, near Back Cove.

Plans for the first phase, approved last month, call for 235 market-rate apartments in a 165-foot-tall building, a 705-vehicle parking garage and first-floor retail space.

The Federated Cos. received about 20 waivers from city standards and nearly 50 conditions of approval to move the project forward.

“Our City Hall is selling Portland short,” Bayside resident Charlotte Fullam said in a prepared statement.

Keep Portland Livable was encouraged by a recent Superior Court ruling that overturned the City Council’s decision to rezone the historic Williston-West Church in the West End to allow for office uses, because it did not conform to the city’s comprehensive plan.

The city is appealing that ruling to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Jennifer Thompson, a city attorney, told the board last month that decision could affect midtown, but only if the appeal is upheld by the Supreme Court.

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

rbillings@pressherald.com

Twitter: @randybillings

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