January 30, 2013

$38 million Bayside project gets a renewed look

Concerns over density, height and the impact on a trail seem likely to slow the approval process.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Concerns about building heights and impacts on a walking trail are prompting city planners to re-examine a proposed $38 million development in Bayside.

Residents and Planning Board members said Tuesday they have reservations about increasing zoning limits on building heights to accommodate one of four proposed residential towers along Somerset Street. They said they are also concerned about how one of two proposed parking garages would interact with the Bayside Trail.

"Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to be a very quick process," board Vice Chairman Stuart O'Brien said. "I think there are some issues we need to take time on."

Tuesday's meeting was the first time board members and the public were able to weigh in on the new design of the former Maritime Landing project, which is now being called midtown, with a lower case 'm.' Federated Cos., based in Miami, is developing the project.

The developer originally planned to build seven towers along Somerset Street, but revised its plans to address impacts on the skyline and views from parts of the city.

The 3.25-acre property straddles two height zoning districts, one with a maximum of 165 feet, the other a maximum of 105 feet. Some of the buildings in the original plan would have exceeded the 105-foot limit.

The new plan calls for four L-shaped buildings with courtyards and two parking garages. Three of the buildings would approach the 165-foot limit on part of the parcel, and one would exceed the 105-foot limit on the other portion.

While the layout has changed, the basic features of the project remain the same: 675 market-rate housing units, 97,000 square feet of retail space and parking for 1,000 vehicles in two garages.

Phase I of the two-phase project, estimated to cost $38 million, calls for 165 market-rate apartments, 40,000 square feet of retail and a 700-space garage between Chestnut Street and Pearl Street extension.

Board members and residents said they liked the new layout, but remained concerned about height.

Proponents have said such a project is needed in Bayside.

"It's important for the city; it's important to Bayside to get this influx of residents and commercial activity," said Ron Spinella, a member of the Bayside Neighborhood Association.

The maximum building heights in Bayside were established in 2006 after a consultant worked with the community to produce a consensus among residents.

"I kind of feel like we're moving too quickly away from a very deliberate work that was done," said board member Elizabeth Boepple.

Local developer Michael Scarks said he was concerned that raising the height limit for the one building would be giving Federated Cos. special treatment and wondered whether other area projects would get height extensions.

Scarks questioned whether the additional height is needed, but Federated's development team said the cost of the parking garage is driving the height of the building.

Although developers received $9 million from the city toward the $15 million cost of the garage, a 165-foot building is still needed to make the project financially viable, said Greg Shinberg, a local consultant representing Federated.

"We absolutely need the density," Shinberg said. "We see a great opportunity, but it's a challenging site."

The Somerset Street property is considered a contaminated Brownfield site that is mostly landfill and suffers from poor drainage, Shinberg said.

Peter Monro, a local landscape architect, lamented the fact that parking was driving the building design, and that too little accommodation is being made to pedestrians.

Board members, while supportive of the project in general, also said they were concerned about the Bayside Trail, which would have to be relocated to make room for the garage, and would still abut the garage and be overshadowed by the building.

Wolfe Tone, state director of the Trust for Public Land, noted the trail came into being with help of donations. He said the project should maintain the intent of the trail and was pleased developers were taking it into account.

Board members said that the board should examine why the height restrictions were put into place before considering whether to change them.

 

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

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings

 

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