Developer Jonathan Cohen has submitted plans to redevelop his Portland property at 100 Fore St. into a fitness center and office complex with a parking garage for nearly 600 vehicles.

The project, estimated to cost $23 million to $31 million, would require demolishing all but 9,000 square feet of an existing single-story building on a downward sloping parcel that currently houses Hamilton Marine, Xpress Copy and other businesses. The current proposal calls for a single-story design along Fore Street, with four stories closer to the waterfront. Three decks of parking would be masked with two retail stores on each corner of Fore Street.

The Planning Board has held one workshop on the proposal. City planners appear to be concerned with the design and orientation of the building.

“The building feels schizophrenic in its orientation, trying to both face the water and meet the requirement of enhancing the street-scape,” Caitlin Cameron, the city’s urban designer, wrote in a memo to the board.

Cohen did not respond to requests for an interview.

IN BUSY DEVELOPMENT AREA

The site plan review follows a zoning change enacted last month by the City Council, which allowed Cohen to put up a larger building. City planners said Cohen would have been able to build a parking garage without a zoning change. The approval allowed the developer to move forward with adding office and retail uses to the proposal.

The project site is between the former Portland Co. site, where developers are pursuing an ambitious mixed-use development plan along the eastern waterfront, and the India Street neighborhood, which has seen the most intense development activity in the city with the addition of a hotel and multiple office and residential buildings in recent years. More development of that area is on the way, with Shipyard Brewing Co. receiving approvals to redevelop its Newbury Street brewery into a beer-themed hotel, or a so-called brewtel, and an office building for Vets First Choice.

“This area is a locus of significant planning initiatives, public investment and private development,” Senior Planner Christine Grimando wrote in a memo to the board.

The product of those planning efforts, however, is being questioned by East End residents and commercial fishermen, who opposed the council’s zoning change because they were concerned about more congestion and pollution associated with additional vehicles downtown.

“In addition to its impact on traffic and parking, the idea of placing 600 parking places in this space, with its view of the waterfront, is quite incongruous with the mission of the Planning Board to preserve the waterfront for public use and enjoyment,” Waterville Street residents Pamela Day and Michael Petit wrote. “We urge the city and the Planning Board to pursue other options for parking, including shuttles from existing parking areas.”

SETTING PARKING REQUIREMENTS

Last month, a group of residents filed initial paperwork at City Hall for a citizens referendum that would make it more difficult to develop the immediate waterfront for uses that do not rely on the water. A similar referendum passed by a 2-1 ratio in 1987 despite being opposed by seven of the nine councilors and the local chamber of commerce.

Cohen would have to justify any parking that exceeds the baseline requirement by 10 percent. It was unclear what that baseline amount would be.

The proposal calls for a single-story design along Fore Street, in foreground, with four stories closer to the waterfront that mask three decks of parking spaces. Rendering courtesy of Archetype Architects

Planning Director Tuck O’Brien said parking and traffic would be the subject of the next workshop, which has yet to be scheduled. He noted that the parking garage is intended to accommodate parking for employees at the new Wex headquarters. That parking is currently being provided at the nearby Ocean Gateway garage.

O’Brien said the Planning Board has the authority to use the baseline parking requirements as a guide and set its own requirements. It can lower the required parking if the applicant is taking steps to encourage other types of transportation, such as biking and buses, or increase parking to accommodate demand from nearby uses, O’Brien said.

“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “But all in all it’s a good project.”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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Twitter: randybillings

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