The City Council on Monday will consider a zoning change that would allow an office park near one of the oldest neighborhoods in Portland.

Northland Enterprises wants to redevelop the site of the Elks Lodge at 1945 Congress St., directly across from the entrance to the Portland International Jetport. The Elks would remain on the property with a renovated building, and Northland would build a medical and office building on the site.

The site is currently zoned residential, and would change to an office-park designation if the council approves. The property is notable for a large elk statue on a stone pedestal, visible from Congress Street.

Neighbors object, arguing that a zoning change would sully the Stroudwater Historic District, home to the Tate House, which was built in 1755 and remains Portland’s oldest publicly accessed building.

“Any rezoning of the area in close proximity to any historical district should be done with an eye to ensuring the rezone will not negatively impact the historic district,” David Silk, who lives nearby on Westbrook Street, wrote in a letter to the council. “The proposal is piecemeal rezoning, unwise and unsound. There is no compelling need for this zone change.”

The Planning Board recommended the zoning change with a 4-2 vote, agreeing the area is better suited for office space than residential homes. In addition to its location directly across from the jetport’s Congress Street entrance, the Elks Lodge shares a driveway with Unum and is bordered on two sides by zoning that allows office park developments. Josh Benthien, a Northland partner, said he was “cautiously optimistic” the zoning change request will be approved. “I’m not as optimistic as I typically would be. The politics around this have been surprising,” he said.


Neighbors have spoken out against the project, noting the long history of the neighborhood providing homes to Portlanders and suggesting that if development occurs on the 7-acre site, it should be for new homes. While the site is bordered on two sides by zoning that allows office parks, land to the south and east is zoned residential and home to single-family houses.

Portland has a limited supply of land zoned for residential development, and the city’s Comprehensive Plan encourages more residential development, Silk wrote in his letter. He urged the council to consider the impact of the zoning change request relative to existing neighbors and potential future residential development.

Benthien called the idea of new homes on the site “false hope.” From an economic standpoint, “the numbers just don’t shake out” to support constructing homes there, he said, in part because the site already abuts an office park and is across the street from the airport. That makes the site better suited for offices, he said.

In a statement last month, the Stroudwater Village Association said it remains opposed to the rezoning proposal until a “comprehensive visioning process for the neighborhood is undertaken.”

The group said it and its members are “surprised by and uncomfortable with the City’s insistence on rezoning a single parcel ahead of proper planning for the area. We believe that to do so is shortsighted and reckless.”

The Elks own the land now, and would sell it to Northland if the zoning request is approved. Details of the proposed sale were not disclosed. The Elks would remain in a smaller renovated building toward the rear of the property, and two new buildings would be built to the south and west. The plan includes a 40-foot buffer to the east, to provide separation from existing neighbors.

If the zoning request is rejected, Benthien said Northland likely would look elsewhere. “We pride ourselves in not giving up, but there would be a lot of obstacles in front of us,” he said. “There are not a lot of opportunities off-peninsula in Portland. Our second choices were all in South Portland. These are good jobs we want in Portland. If this doesn’t happen, they’re going to South Portland.”


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