Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Randy Billings firstname.lastname@example.org
PORTLAND - A developer wants to build a mixed-use project on two vacant properties in the West End that would include 39 market-rate apartments.
An architect’s rendering shows a four-story, mixed-use building Redfern Properties of Portland is proposing in the West End. Approvals are being sought, notably from the city’s Historic Preservation Board for demolition of a 1850s Cape Cod at 183 Brackett St.
Courtesy of Ryan Senatore Architecture
A crosswalk leads to the site at the corner of Pine and Brackett streets where a developer would put 39 market-rate apartments. Two old buildings would have to come down.
Derek Davis/Staff Photographer
Redfern Properties of Portland is proposing the four-story building, totaling 45,844 square feet, at the corner of Pine and Brackett streets. The first floor would host retail stores and a 31-space parking garage, while the upper three floors would be apartments.
Before the development -- projected to cost $5 million to $10 million -- can move forward for site plan approval, Redfern Properties will need permission from the city's Historic Preservation Board to remove two vacant buildings that are in disrepair.
The board will meet Wednesday to consider the developer's request to demolish the 1850s Cape at 183 Brackett St. and the single-story commercial building from 1900 in front of it.
"The buildings are dilapidated and the parking lot is an eyesore," said Jonathan Culley, owner of Redfern Properties. "Our (project) design is innovative and progressive. It will be an interesting discussion with the Historic Preservation Board on how progressive they're willing to let us go."
Culley said he and his partner, Paul Peck, have two parcels, totaling 17,000 square feet, under contract to buy. The purchase is contingent on the necessary approvals for the project, which is in a neighborhood business zone where such development is encouraged.
The site is in Portland's West End Historic District so the planned demolition is subject to approval from the Historic Preservation Board, which also must ensure that the project's design fits into the fabric of the neighborhood.
The property, two blocks west of Longfellow Square, represents a "significant gateway" to the West End and Western Promenade neighborhoods, said Deb Andrews, the city's Historic Preservation Program manager.
The Cape at 183 Brackett St. is considered a contributing piece of architecture in the historic West End, so its demolition requires special approval. The commercial building is considered noncontributing.
Andrews said in a memo that those designations "are somewhat puzzling." She said the board has the authority to remove the Cape from the contributing list, which would clear the way for demolition, or add the commercial building to the contributing list, which would protect it.
"Staff is not necessarily advocating for this, but the board's authority should be noted," Andrews said.
Culley said he is just starting to seek residents' feedback about the development proposal.
While several residents didn't know about the proposal Monday, they were encouraged to hear about a plan to develop the corner. The corner has been vacant for all of the 20 years that Jo Coyne has lived in the neighborhood.
"It seems like a good space to have development," said Coyne, who is reserving judgment on the proposal until she learns more. "I'd (like) to see something that is going to be on the tax rolls and contributing to the city."
Also cautiously optimistic is Ethan Strimling, executive director of LearningWorks, whose office overlooks the lots.
He said the corner in its current condition does not contribute to the area.
"The two houses next to us are only housing feral cats," Strimling said. "It would be great to have someone utilize that area."
The proposed development's retail space would run along Pine Street and wrap around Brackett Street.
Culley said he is optimistic about his company's chances of building and renting out what he believes will be Portland's first fully market-rate housing project in decades -- one that would be certified for energy efficiency.
The proximity to one of Portland's largest employers -- Maine Medical Center -- and the arts- and restaurant-packed downtown make it a prime location for new housing, he said.
"It's a challenging deal," Culley said, "but we think the rental market in Portland is good and interest rates are low, so we hope it is a good time to be undertaking this project."
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: