Three separate residential subdivisions – developments rarely seen in Portland for decades – are now moving through the city’s review process as developers try to meet strong demand for new single-family homes.

The latest proposal arrived last week – a 16-lot subdivision planned for land off Hope Avenue near the Presumpscot River Preserve in North Deering.

Another project awaiting action calls for eight homes off outer Washington Avenue, also in North Deering.

Meanwhile, the City Council last week approved a rezoning request on a 45-acre farm in the Stroudwater neighborhood, paving the way for a 95-home development on what had been the city’s last working pastureland.

Although Portland has experienced a boom in downtown-area construction of apartments and condominiums, new single-family home subdivisions have been rare in the city for the past 20 years because much of the developable open space is already built out. Now, with high demand for single-family homes, developers are willing to invest in the roads and infrastructure for a subdivision that might not be considered in a slower housing market, said Jeff Levine, head of Portland’s Planning and Urban Development Department.

“Once housing prices go up, it makes more sense to subdivide,” Levine said. Young people and families who don’t want to leave the city are looking for affordable new construction that is scarce in Portland, he said.

“I think it is an effort to meet that demand,” Levine said.

EAGER TO LIVE IN PORTLAND

Still, the majority of new housing in the city will remain multi-units, such as rental apartments and condos, he said. Although it may be easier and cheaper to find single-family housing developments in communities around the city, people want to stay in Portland for its city services, transportation options, diverse schools and amenities.

“I just think people want to live in Portland,” Levine said.

Greenlight Enterprises, a development firm from Gray, applied in March to build an eight-lot subdivision on 2.15 acres on the east side of 1728 Washington Ave. The plan, which still needs approval from the Planning Board, includes a dead-end street, public utilities and a separate lot for an existing farmhouse. Lot sizes range between 6,532 square feet, or 0.15 acres, and 10,900 square feet, or 0.25 acres. The cost of preparing the site for homes is estimated to be $230,000, according to the company’s application with the city.

Greenlight has constructed housing and commercial projects in Gray and New Gloucester. It held a public meeting in early May for 17 nearby residents to ask questions about the proposal for a Washington Avenue subdivision. Neighbors raised concerns about the historic value of the property and questioned the plan to remove a barn on the parcel, among other issues. The Planning Board has yet to schedule a public hearing or vote on the proposal.

BEHIND THE STRONG DEMAND

Greenlight owner Ron Goddard said the planning process in Portland is burdensome and expensive, but intense demand for housing in the city makes the effort worth it.

“Absolutely, there is a lack of inventory,” he said.

The house lots are comparable in size and price to older nearby developments, he said, although no pricing information about the new homes was available. Goddard said he has already received calls about the property and expects the house lots to sell out quickly. People are willing to pay a premium to live in the city on a smaller lot than they might get in the suburbs so they can be closer to work and avoid heavy commuter traffic. Low interest rates and scarce new construction are also driving demand, Goddard said.

“We will sell out before we even build it,” he said.

Lloyd Wolf, who owns the property off Hope Avenue, is proposing to subdivide a 6.46-acre parcel into 16 home lots.

The proposal includes a 960-foot street with lots ranging in size from 6,048 square feet, or 0.14 acres, to 18,641 square feet, or 0.43 acres. About 2 acres would be set aside for public access, and six parking spaces with access to the Presumpscot River Preserve would be relocated, according to a project narrative filed with the city. One lot would be set aside for affordable housing, a requirement of Portland’s inclusionary zoning ordinance. The project cost was not included in Wolf’s application.

In an interview, Wolf said the subdivision is proposed for the remaining parcel of a large property he has owned for many years and split up into home lots over time. He declined to discuss the proposal in detail, but said he “certainly hoped” there would be demand for lots in the development.

RESISTANCE TO LARGER PROPOSAL

It’s not clear if the two smaller proposals for North Deering will run into the kind of public resistance that frequently accompanies development proposals in densely developed Portland.

Those projects are moving through the review process as the much larger Camelot Farms proposal is drawing intense scrutiny from the city and from neighbors, some of whom opposed the rezoning.

The City Council voted 5-4 last Monday to rezone 45 acres of open space at 1700 Westbrook St. to allow a developer to build 95 single-family homes, while preserving 25 acres of recreational open space for public use. The vote brought to a close six months of study and deliberations by city planners, but it may not be the last they hear about the proposal.

The plan still needs subdivision and site plan approval before it can move forward. Meanwhile, a group of residents is collecting signatures to change the way the city rezones land. If successful, the effort could affect the project at Camelot Farm.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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