December 12, 2013

Proposed new Maine DHHS office faces tight timeline

The plan to move state agencies to South Portland requires completion in about a year.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — A controversial plan to build a new office for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services near the Portland International Jetport faces a tight but not impossible timeline, a city official says.

With about a year to get the project approved and built, ELC Management Inc. of Portland could have its proposal for an 80,000-square-foot building before the Planning Board as early as next month, said Tex Haeuser, South Portland’s director of planning and development.

Haeuser declined to speculate whether the development firm, headed by Eric L. Cianchette and Kenneth J. Cianchette, would be able to meet DHHS’ deadline to vacate its current Cumberland County headquarters at 161 Marginal Way in Portland by Jan. 31, 2015.

“Nothing’s not possible,” Haeuser said. “They are dealing with some time constraints.”

The Cianchettes haven’t responded to repeated calls for comment on the DHHS project. The state selected ELC Management’s plan from four proposals submitted in response to an advertised request. State officials looked elsewhere after failing to negotiate a renewed lease for the Marginal Way building.

At the South Portland location, the state plans to consolidate DHHS offices with state Department of Labor offices, currently at 185 Lancaster St. in Portland, and the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board, currently at 62 Elm St. in Portland.

Tom Toye, a developer who submitted a proposal to consolidate the state offices on Lancaster Street, appealed the state’s selection of ELC Management’s proposal. The state denied Toye’s claim that the review process was unfair given that his proposal was less expensive and more in line with lease specifications. Toye may take his complaint to court, he said Thursday in a news release.

Portland officials also oppose the anticipated loss of three state agencies from the Portland peninsula, where many people need public services, to the more suburban area near the Maine Mall, contributing to sprawl and other concerns.

In a Twitter post on Tuesday, the city of Portland’s Planning and Urban Development Department described the proposed move as an example of “strange land use decision making.” Jeff Levine, director of the department, didn’t respond to a call for comment.

The state has been paying about $29 per square foot for the building on Marginal Way and would have been forced to pay more if DHHS had remained there, state officials said. The state has until Dec. 15 to negotiate lease terms with ELC, but state officials said they hope to pay less than $24 per square foot at the South Portland site. The 20-year lease would be worth about $43 million.

State officials said Peter Quesada, principal of the Fore River Co., already has another tenant for the Marginal Way building, where DHHS has been located since 2000. With a new tenant lined up, Quesada has warned state officials that DHHS must leave before its lease expires on Jan. 31, 2015.

Quesada didn’t respond to a call for information about the new tenant.

ELC Management has yet to submit plans for the South Portland site, Haeuser said, but representatives have met with municipal staff members to learn what they must do to win city approval.

The Planning Board meets on the first and fourth Tuesdays of each month and usually decides most matters in one meeting, Haeuser said. Development proposals must be submitted 30 days in advance to allow staff members and consulting engineers time to review plans, he said.

ELC Management must satisfy local zoning ordinances and building codes and state environmental regulations, Haeuser said. Its plan also must be reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure that the building’s height meets safety regulations, because the property is next to the airport.

(Continued on page 2)

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