Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By Randy Billings firstname.lastname@example.org
The City Council voted Monday to sell the former Nathan Clifford Elementary School for $1 to a developer that is proposing market-rate housing in the 104-year-old building.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer: Nathan Clifford School in Portland.
The approval will allow developers to proceed with an ambitious timeline for redevelopment.
The school, which was closed in 2011 when students began attending the new Ocean Avenue Elementary School, has been targeted by vandalism and other crime, said City Councilor Edward Suslovic, who represents the district.
“It’s really a brooding presence in the neighborhood as opposed to the dynamic presence when it was a school,” Suslovic said. The fast-tracked project “is something the neighborhood is extremely excited about.”
The Developer’s Collaborative plans to build as many as 22 units in the three-story building on Falmouth Street. It will present its proposal to the Planning Board on Tuesday.
Neighborhood residents supported the sale Monday. Even those who fought against the school’s closure and hoped the building would remain an educational institution supported the proposal, saying it is time to move on.
“Above any other use, I would have preferred to keep this building in education, but since that ship has sailed I support the current proposal,” said Martha Sheils, a resident.
The Developer’s Collaborative originally offered $200,000 for the building and adjoining land, where it planned to build two duplexes. But councilors on the Housing and Community Development Committee, which negotiated the sale, recommended a lower price so the city could get more open space.
Instead of 6,000 square feet of open space, the neighborhood will get access to closer to 18,000 square feet through an easement the developer will provide to the city.
Developers have estimated that rents for the apartments will range from $1,100 a month for a 646-square-foot unit to $2,400 for a 1,420-square-foot unit.
Not everyone was happy with the sale – or the addition of green space.
John Eder opposed the sale, saying the city is struggling with homelessness and selling the building for $1 to facilitate market-rate housing won’t help.
Eder criticized Suslovic for supporting the sale of Congress Square Plaza downtown while forgoing $200,000 to keep green space in his own district.
“This same committee voted to sell my public park,” Eder said. “I find this very egregious.”
The building has 44,000 square feet of floor space and sits on a lot of about 1½ acres. It was designed by the renowned architect John Calvin Stevens and is named after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Nathan Clifford, whose grandson, also named Nathan Clifford, was Portland’s mayor in 1906, when the school’s construction began.
The city has designated the school, which opened in 1909, a historic landmark, so any exterior changes must be reviewed by the city’s Historic Preservation Committee. The school is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The city plans to seek that designation so the project can be eligible for tax credits.
The project is expected to generate $78,000 a year in property taxes.
A task force that studied potential reuses of the building described it as the “heart and soul of the Oakdale neighborhood.”
Only two developers responded to the city’s request for proposals. Community Housing of Maine proposed an affordable-housing project that would have required a zoning change – something the task force opposed.
Also Monday, the council voted to sell 3 acres on Riverside Street to the Forefront Partners I, which plans a $100 million mixed-use development on Thompson’s Point.
The developer will pay $285,000 for the land, which will be used as a new facility for Suburban Propane, which is now on Thompson’s Point. Once the propane business is moved, developers plan to build an event center and parking garage on the site.
The council also approved tax increment financing for an affordable-housing project on Cumberland Avenue. Avesta Housing plans 55 units of housing, 46 of which would be affordable and 11 of which would be market rate.
Over the next 22 years, as much as $684,000 in property taxes will be returned to Avesta, while $900,750 in taxes will go into the city’s Affordable Housing Loan and Investment Fund.
Without a TIF agreement, the additional tax money being generated by the project would have gone into the city’s general fund.
The council also approved a conditional zoning agreement on Great Diamond Island for Dinosaur Enterprises, the only island-based provider of home heating oil and gasoline. The company has been operating on Sunset Avenue in violation of city zoning since 1998. Residents overwhelming supported the business Monday night.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: