Re: “Welcome to Portland – No Vacancy” (Nov. 15-20):

With the exception of repurposing old school buildings, most of the discussion concerning Portland’s housing crisis focuses on the peninsula. Yet Portland’s total land area is about 26 square miles, with the peninsula about 3 square miles.

A solution for housing is to think off-peninsula by intensifying mixed-use commercial arteries like Forest Avenue on Metro’s commuter route to downtown.

From Interstate 295 to Morrill’s Corner, much of Forest Avenue (except for Oakhurst Dairy) is mixed-use, older one- to three-story buildings and parking lots, which have the potential, with good planning and design, to become a lively pedestrian corridor.

To assist housing development, the city could use established incentives encouraging owners to work with developers building housing above retail and on underutilized lots. Some projects would be new, others renovations or additions.

Developers seeking to build luxury housing on the peninsula are now required to include a percentage of market-rate housing units. Developers could be allowed the option to build the required market-rate housing in off-peninsula incentive zones, instead of forcing them into high-value real estate projects.

The University of Southern Maine needs to be brought into this discussion, as it has a strong visual presence at the I-295 edge. Also, as USM moves toward becoming a “metropolitan university,” a greater presence of pedestrian activity on the street should benefit this new orientation. Market-rate housing in this area would likely be followed by retail businesses to serve an increased residential population, adding to a more vibrant street life both day and night.

This isn’t a new idea. The Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System Planning Committee has studied intensifying development on Portland’s major commuter arteries. The study included citizens participating in site walks along Forest Avenue. Let’s reopen this study with a focus on market-rate housing.

Robert Kahn

past member, PACTS Planning Committee