SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland Housing Authority’s second project pitch in two weeks got an even frostier response from Knightville residents, who said a five-story, 48-unit affordable apartment or condominium building on Ocean Street would be too large for the village-like neighborhood.

More than 75 people turned out Tuesday evening for the feisty forum at the authority’s headquarters in Knightville, an area just over the Casco Bay Bridge from downtown Portland that in recent years has become a more desirable and costly place to live and do business.

Authority staff members said the proposal is a work in progress, but as presented, it would require City Council approval for zoning changes to exceed the 50-foot height limit or the 13 units allowed on the half-acre parcel at Ocean and B streets.

Several residents spoke openly during the meeting, questioning the motives of authority and city officials, calling the proposal “ham-handed” and “tone-deaf,” and suggesting that the “industrial-size complex” would “darken the entire village.” Some said it should be built near the Maine Mall or in Scarborough, where there might be less concern about increased traffic, limited parking and other issues.

“No one wants this. It doesn’t fit,” said Susanne Conley, who lives on C Street and grew up in the neighborhood.

Tuesday’s meeting was the second neighborhood forum held this month to introduce projects proposed by the authority to address the city’s tight rental market. Last week, the authority pitched a proposal to build 28 affordable apartments at 131 Sunset Ave., a 3-acre vacant lot in the Thornton Heights neighborhood that overlooks the railroad tracks at Rigby Yard.


Twenty residents and property owners attended the Thornton Heights meeting and none of them said they liked the proposal. Most raised concerns about its impact on traffic, pedestrian safety, property values and overall quality of life in the neighborhood. The Sunset Avenue proposal also would require zoning changes.

“Our mission is to create housing,” Executive Director Mike Hulsey said at Tuesday’s meeting in Knightville. “We hope to get some support for this project.”

The authority is attempting to build market-rate housing to increase the overall availability of housing and shorten the wait for subsidized apartments, which can range from two to three years for one- and two-bedroom units to six years for a three-bedroom unit.

The authority has the property at 51-63 Ocean St. under contract. It includes a vacant one-story office building formerly occupied by Martin’s Point Health Care that was on the market for $1.8 million. A second phase containing 28 units would be built at 63 Ocean St., a quarter-acre lot with a smaller, one-story office building that is leased for the next few years.

Depending on how the Knightville project is financed, it would target renters or buyers who make 80 percent to 120 percent of area median income, which is $54,598 per household in South Portland.

If it is traditionally financed as an apartment building, it would contain two studio, 32 one-bedroom and 14 two-bedroom units, with monthly rents ranging from $900 to $2,000, said Sandy Warren, a housing specialist with the authority. The project would include one parking spot for each unit and ground-level commercial space on Ocean Street.


If the units are sold as condos, they would contain deed restrictions to keep them affordable, buyers would have to meet income requirements throughout the life of the building and buyers would have to live in their units. Prices at the outset would range from $130,000 for a studio condo to $330,000 for a two-bedroom condo.

If the authority manages to secure federal low-income housing tax credits, half of the units would be market rate and half would be subsidized, with monthly rents ranging from $770 to $1,108 for income-restricted units and from $1,276 to $1,544 for market-rate units.

Current buildings at 51-63 Ocean St. include the former Martin’s Point health center at right.

Some Knightville residents said they supported the authority’s effort to build affordable housing, but they believe the project should be scaled down to better fit the neighborhood.

Patrizia Bailey, a development consultant working for the authority, said developers generally need to build a certain number of units to keep projects affordable to renters or buyers.

“I think four or five stories is too big for our neighborhood,” said Eva Goetz, who lives on C Street. “It’s hard to trust what’s being said. We’re good people who want to help.”


Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: