February 21, 2013

Munjoy Hill residents air concerns over proposed performance hall

Critics say the St. Lawrence Arts Center project may be too ambitious and could cause parking problems.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – A citizens group is questioning the need to build a 411-seat performance center on Munjoy Hill.

click image to enlarge

The Friends of the St. Lawrence Church have submitted new plans for 411-seat performance hall on Munjoy Hill that seeks to address concerns raised by residents and historic preservationists.

Courtesy of Archetype Architect

Concerned Citizens of Munjoy Hill says the neighborhood doesn't have enough on-street parking to accommodate an expansion of the St. Lawrence Arts Center and wants to know if the Portland market can produce enough revenue to support another large performance venue.

The group says it wants the St. Lawrence Arts Center to succeed but the scope of the project may be too ambitious.

"We value and respect the work that St. Lawrence has done but we do have some concerns about the project," said Stephen Gaal, a member of Concerned Citizens of Munjoy Hill.

Several members of the group raised their concerns Wednesday night during a meeting of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization.

The Friends of the St. Lawrence Church have proposed a 411-seat, 54-foot-tall performance hall on the site of the former St. Lawrence Church, at 76 Congress St.

The performance hall would complement the 110-seat Parish Hall Theater, which opened in 2001.

Andrea Myhaver, the neighborhood organization's president, said that while several of her members belong to Concerned Citizens, the group has not taken a position on the project.

But, she said, "We want to encourage dialogue. We want to hear all of it. We love St. Lawrence. It is a wonderful addition to our neighborhood and we want to see it succeed."

Barbara Barhydt, acting director of the city's Planning Division, was invited to the meeting to explain the approval process that the St. Lawrence Arts Center must go through to amend a conditional rezoning agreement that the city approved in 2010.

Because St. Lawrence is proposing design changes to the project, it will have to go before the city's Historic Preservation Board and Planning Board before the City Council can grant final approval.

Barhydt said the process will give the public ample opportunity to make suggestions and offer input.

She said the Planning Board typically doesn't base decisions on whether its members think a project will succeed financially.

In a memo to Munjoy Hill resident Ralph Carmona, Barhydt estimates that the review process could take as long as four months.

Carmona serves on the board of directors for the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization and is a member of Concerned Citizens of Munjoy Hill.

"This project will change the nature of our walkable community," Carmona said before Wednesday's meeting. "People are going to drive in circles trying to find a parking space."

Peter Bass, a member of the Friends of St. Lawrence, spoke briefly during Wednesday's meeting.

"It's our intent to keep this a very open and transparent process," Bass said.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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