– By DENNIS HOEY

Staff Writer

PORTLAND – A plan by the University of New England to build Northern New England’s first dental school off Stevens Avenue was unanimously approved Tuesday night by the city Planning Board.

The Patient Care Center would serve 138 students and about 12,000 patients a year. The $14 million facility, which would face Stevens Avenue but have its main entrance on College Street, would open by the fall of 2013.

Planning Board members signed off on the project after hearing from a number of local residents about parking and traffic. Students parking on side streets and heavy traffic due in part to the school are already problems in the area, they said.

Alan Thibeault, UNE’s assistant vice president for planning, said the school will create a 300-space satellite parking lot on Bishop Street that should alleviate some of the traffic and parking issues.

Thibeault said the student population at UNE’s Portland campus is expected to increase from 818 this year to 1,189 by 2016-2017.

Planners debated at length whether the building should have an entrance facing Stevens Avenue. UNE’s site plan calls for construction of an entrance on College Street, adjacent to the patient parking lot.

“It will be shame if the entrance is not on Stevens Avenue. The building will basically be turning its back on the street,” Planning Board member Patrick Venne said. “But it’s a great project and I don’t want to lay down in front of it and keep a dental college out of Portland.”

Only four of seven board members were present. Chairwoman Carol Morrissette said that meant that all votes taken on the UNE project had to be unanimous to be approved.

“It’s not my role to tell you where to put a door. Locating a door is beyond our purview,” Morrissette said.

Venne said he would reluctantly vote with the majority of the board, which include David Silk, Bill Hall and Morrissette.

Thibeault said UNE acquired the Bishop Street parking lot from Pike Industries. He said students will be given incentives to park in the Bishop Street lot and would be shuttled by bus from the lot to the main campus.

Several neighbors questioned whether students would park in the satellite lot or continue to park on residential streets.

“The reality is it’s a nightmare down there (in the Stevens Avenue neighborhood). There are cars everywhere,” said Scott Dalton, a resident of Stevens Avenue. “I can’t get out of my driveway in the morning and it’s only going to get worse.”

Thibeault said construction work on the 39,000-square-foot Patient Care Center will start as soon as the city issues the school a building permit.

The center will fulfill two needs: training future dentists and providing much-needed dental care in Portland.

It is expected to be at capacity in three to four years.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]