SOUTH PORTLAND — What will become of the current public works site on O’Neil Street after a new public services facility off outer Highland Avenue is completed later this year?

A 10-member committee has been mulling a wide variety of redevelopment options for the 6-acre property off Cottage Road – a monthslong process that included a site walk and brainstorming session with neighbors and other city residents last week. The committee will deliver its findings to the City Council on Monday and seek further guidance at the 6:30 p.m. workshop.

Will a developer build apartments, condominiums or single-family homes that might dent the city’s housing crisis? Will O’Neil Street connect directly to Pitt Street or curve through the site, deterring cut-through traffic? Will the city require green building standards with rooftop solar panels? And what about sidewalks, recreation trails and a community garden that might take advantage of the greenhouse already on the site?

The committee and its consultants have gathered broad reactions to myriad redevelopment options, but one thing is clear to Linden Thigpen, a committee member who lives a block from the site.

Neighbors don’t want redevelopment of the current public works site to change the Meetinghouse Hill neighborhood, Thigpen said, especially in the triangle of single-family homes bounded by Cottage Road and Sawyer and Walnut streets.

“We want it to stay a mixed group of people – a cultural mosaic, so to speak,” Thigpen said. “We like that about our neighborhood. We don’t want it to be gentrified.”

Thigpen and others see warning signs in a hot real estate market where home prices are skyrocketing. She said three two-bedroom homes in the neighborhood recently sold for more than $350,000 each – a price that would be out of reach for many people who live in the neighborhood now.

“It’s scary,” Thigpen said.

City officials and committee members say no decisions have been made about the site’s reuse, although they admit the property likely will be sold to a developer if the council decides it should be used for housing. Residents who participated in the committee process indicated strong preferences for and opposition to certain options.

The possibility of including commercial uses, such as office or retail space, was soundly rejected, Thigpen said. Participants also indicated strong opposition to an apartment complex that would inject a large number of renters into a single-family neighborhood.

Many expressed support for keeping the homes affordable, but some worried that the trend toward building smaller cottages or “tiny” houses might devalue existing homes. The South Portland Housing Authority, which has dropped plans for a controversial affordable apartment complex in Knightville, submitted a written statement expressing interest in the O’Neil Street site.

Participants liked redevelopment options that showed O’Neil Street curving through the site and connecting to Pitt Street, with house lots similar in size to the surrounding neighborhood and areas preserved as open space to be shared by the community.

Environmentally friendly building standards were a priority for many, including solar, geothermal, natural gas, underground utilities, open space, green buffer areas, down-facing street lights and electric car-charging stations.

Participants also stressed the need for sidewalks and recreation paths that would connect to the wider neighborhood yet ensure the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. They mentioned traffic-calming measures such as installing cobblestones and making the street narrower to deter drivers from using it as a shortcut. And they expressed concern about the property’s change of use, noting that the site is largely quiet during nonbusiness hours, except during overnight snowstorms.

“Whatever is done with that site, people are particularly concerned about whether it will suddenly become noisy and how it will impact traffic in the neighborhood,” Thigpen said. “They’re worried that O’Neil Street might become a cut-through street.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

filed under: