August 27, 2013

Portland project's parking plans still worrying neighbors

A 'last roundup' of concerns over housing proposed for Cumberland Avenue is on tap Tuesday.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Parking and traffic concerns persist for a proposed mixed-income apartment building on Cumberland Avenue that will be the subject of a Planning Board hearing Tuesday evening.

click image to enlarge

Digital renderings of 57-unit, mixed-income apartment complex proposed by Avesta Housing at 409 Cumberland Ave. in Portland.

click image to enlarge

Neighbors and city officials have lingering issues with the $10 million publicly funded project at 409 Cumberland Ave. proposed by Avesta Housing.

After months in development, lack of on-site parking for the 57-unit building remains a major concern for many neighbors, said Steve Hirshon, president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association.

"This is the last roundup of concerns about the project," Hirshon said. "But they've already put up a fence and moved heavy equipment onto the site, so apparently Avesta is very optimistic."

Avesta plans to provide 18 surface and garage parking spaces at the building and pay the city a fee to offset required additional spaces. The hearing starts at 7 p.m. in Room 209 at City Hall.

Seth Parker, Avesta's director of real estate development, said heavy equipment is on the property to do necessary site preparation work and nothing more.

"I don't want the perception to be that we're overconfident," Parker said. "But we are confident that we can address the concerns of neighbors and board members and win their approval."

Avesta plans to finance the project with a 20-year property tax reduction intended to promote affordable housing development; a federal low-income housing block grant through the city; and low-income housing tax credits through the Maine State Housing Authority.

The four-story building would be built on a vacant lot bounded by busy Forest Avenue and Mechanic Street. Another developer had planned to build a 12-story, 94-unit condominium on the site before the recession hit in 2008.

Zoning calls for one parking space per unit, or 57 spaces. However, Avesta conducted a parking study at its other buildings in Portland, including Pearl Place, and proposed that 0.7 spaces per unit or 40 total spaces would be sufficient.

City planners and consultants agree with 40 spaces for the purposes of this project, said Caitlin Cameron, the city's urban designer. One of the 18 spaces would be dedicated to a car that would be provided by Avesta and shared by several residents, so Avesta can claim to be providing parking for 25 apartments.

To offset the remaining 15 spaces required by zoning, Avesta would make a one-time payment in lieu of providing additional parking elsewhere to help the city develop sustainable transportation alternatives, Cameron said. The payment would be about $5,000 per space, adjusted according to the national construction cost index.

If Avesta lost its five-year contract to provide a car-sharing option to tenants, the housing developer would have to renegotiate its parking agreement with city officials, Cameron said.

The city also may increase available street parking in the neighborhood where possible, such as along Cumberland Avenue, Hirshon said.

"My sense is that will not be enough," Hirshon said.

Both neighbors and city officials are worried about traffic access to the building from Mechanic Street. It's a narrow, steep, one-way, largely residential street with parking on both sides that ends at Cumberland Avenue.

The proposed parking configuration, including narrow aisle widths and compact-car-size spaces, would require vehicles to back onto Mechanic Street, Tom Errico, the city's traffic engineer, wrote in his Aug. 22 report to Cameron.

"This condition should not be permitted and the layout should be revised such that vehicles can enter and exit the site front first," Errico wrote.

This issue will be addressed at Tuesday's hearing, Parker said.

Hirshon is skeptical. "Whatever gets approved will be built and people will get used to it, but right now there are concerns that aren't being addressed," he said. "It's basically a done deal."

Avesta has agreed to redesign proposed sidewalk ramps at Mechanic Street and Forest Avenue and to install a fence to prevent public access to a proposed outdoor courtyard so it won't attract vagrants, city officials said.

If the Planning Board approves the project, construction would start in December and be completed within a year, Parker said.

Eleven units would be leased at market rates ranging from $825 to $1,400 per month, while 46 subsidized units would go for $669 to $1,030 per month for households with incomes ranging from $25,000 to $40,000.

Avesta is promoting the project as a "healthy living community," featuring public space on the first floor that would include a demonstration kitchen suitable for cooking lessons and a community room for exercise classes.

It also may include a rooftop garden and greenhouse where residents would be able to grow their own food, if Avesta can raise additional money to fund the project, Parker said.

 

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @KelleyBouchard

 

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