April 22, 2013

Maine Voices: If Bayside project rejected, what developer would want to replace it?

The answer is that if Portland turns this good idea down, no one else will do anything as bold.

By MARK McAULIFFE

PORTLAND - I am a Bayside business owner, former member of the Bayside Trail capital campaign and former president of the Portland Community Chamber.

And I am writing to urge the City Council to approve the Planning Board's zoning amendments for the proposed Federated project known as Midtown for the Bayside neighborhood.

Apothecary by Design opened our integrated pharmacy in the new InterMed building, on Marginal Way in Bayside, in November 2008. It was not the best of economic times to start a business.

Despite the economic challenges, our business has grown significantly, and we now have almost 50 full-time equivalent employees. When it came time to expand our business and add a second location, we restricted our search to the Bayside area.

We recently moved our specialty pharmacy into new space at 141 Preble St. We love being in Bayside and are pleased to see additional businesses like Trader Joe's and Bayside Bowl join the neighborhood.

However, for Bayside to truly become the new front face of Portland, as outlined in the report "A New Vision for Bayside" issued in 2000, a large project with significant housing, retail and parking space is needed.

The Federated project, with nearly 700 housing units in three phases and a 700-car parking garage in the first phase, does just that. Bayside needs a much greater presence of people living in the neighborhood, not just working there.

For the project to be able to successfully attract residents, shoppers and workers, adequate parking is required, even in a location where many residents will shop or go to work without their cars.

As anyone who has been to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods knows, Bayside needs more parking now, and additional parking is needed for the new residential and retail developments that are called for by the Bayside report.

Creating parking spaces in a garage avoids the use of valuable land for surface parking lots.

Additionally, it does not diminish the pedestrian environment that this project will create along the Bayside Trail, with ground-floor retail located along the perimeter of the parking garage.

While I recognize there are those who have concern about the height amendment being requested, it represents a change to only a small portion of the project's zone, with most of the zone already approved for buildings of up to 165 feet.

I am impressed by the significant and thoughtful work done by the city staff, Planning Board and developer in coming up with a plan that clearly meets the guidelines in "A New Vision for Bayside" while making only minor changes to the allowed heights.

The carefully crafted zoning amendments are an appropriate evolution and improvement to the existing zoning. The new amendments allow the city to address the wind effects of tall buildings and provide better assurances that view corridors will be maintained.

The zoning amendments protect the views of Back Cove and the city skyline better than existing zoning by preventing clustering of tall buildings within the same or adjacent blocks.

The developer has located buildings to preserve view corridors and open space.

I am also impressed by what the development can do to help realize the vision of the Bayside Trail.

We knew when raising money for the trail that it could be a foundational piece to entice development within Bayside as well as provide additional trail opportunities within the city. It appears to be doing just that.

My understanding is that the trail is one of the primary reasons Federated became interested in the project.

They have done a good job of making the trail the centerpiece of the new vibrant, walkable neighborhood they will create, with additional public space adjacent to the trail.

The Bayside Trail is a gem, but it is currently underused and unrealized. It currently winds by snow dumps and partially cleaned-up scrapyards.

The Federated project would replace much of that with retail and residential spaces. In addition, the design calls for additional public open spaces adjacent to the Bayside Trail that could be Portland's newest public squares.

Large projects like this with a developer ready to commit to such a substantial investment do not come often. How many more years do we want to wait to realize the vision for Bayside?

If we wish to take the vision of Bayside into reality, approval of this project is critical.

Imagine the message that would be sent to developers if the council were not to support the project.

I suspect no developer would risk proposing such a bold investment for years to come.

I urge the City Council to approve this project.

Mark McAuliffe is managing partner at Apothecary by Design in Portland.

 

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