Any notion that the latest version of the Federated Cos.’ “midtown” development is an improvement over what had been approved by the Portland Planning Board early this year should, by now, be thoroughly discredited.

In order to settle a lawsuit brought by urban design purists, the developer has produced a scaled-back plan in which four sprawling six-story buildings are proposed to replace four 14-story high-rise apartment buildings. The new version creates far fewer housing units, while still calling for nearly as many parking spaces in a garage that would be subsidized by the city and federal governments and stand as the tallest structure on the street.

Instead of using stone, glass and high-quality metals on facades, the developer proposes using low-cost materials such as vinyl siding and an “exterior insulation and finish system” that looks like stucco and is most often seen on the outside of big-box stores.

The changes are not the developer’s fault. The former industrial site would require extensive environmental remediation before a building could go up. The original building heights were needed to spread the cost over more units. Now the builders have to look elsewhere for savings.

The Planning Board has expressed concerns about the new design, and has called on the developers to work with city staff to make improvements. The developer had hoped for a January public hearing and approval vote so it could begin work right away. Now that timeline – and even the viability of the project itself – is in question.

The city should not let this opportunity slip by. Four less-than-inspiring mid-rise apartment buildings with street-level retail would be a huge improvement to the industrial wasteland that now exists in that part of Bayside. And the developer plans to build the whole project at once instead of phasing it in over a decade, adding 445 market-rate apartments to a very tight rental market. Drawing that many families to Bayside would still have a positive effect on the neighborhood.

And Portland can’t afford to lose this developer. If this project falls through, it’s hard to see why another company would take the risk of working with a city where any resident with enough money for a lawyer has veto power over every development.

Federated has spent five years in negotiations with the city, first on the purchase and sale agreement, and then on bringing its project through to a Planning Board vote.

But after receiving all the necessary approvals, the developer was sued by critics who had participated in the planning process but just didn’t like the outcome. The new “compromise” plan was created not out in the open but in private negotiations between Federated and a group calling itself Keep Portland Livable, with no public input or scrutiny by the city’s professional staff.

The critics can congratulate themselves for making the city more livable, but they have done their neighbors a great disservice. Portland will end up with a lower-quality development in Bayside than what was originally approved (if there is a development at all), and the people who say that the city is hostile to economic development have another reason to stay away.