A Portland City Council subcommittee has asked staff to move toward drafting a request for housing proposals for one or more pieces of city-owned land, including a 13-acre parcel in Falmouth.

The council’s Housing Committee met in closed session last week to discuss details of potential housing projects. City Councilor Jill Duson, who leads the panel, said the committee asked staff to gather more information in anticipation of a formal request for proposals.

“I’m confident that we’ll be able to take the next step for a project to move forward by the end of this year,” Duson said about the timeline for soliciting proposals.

Maine’s largest city has been undergoing an unprecedented boom of luxury housing, while demand for affordable housing has driven up rents. The city has enacted a variety of proposals to counter the market – from inclusionary zoning to modest rental protections to limits on short-term rentals. But this is one of the few examples of the city offering its own land specifically for affordable housing.

The sites being eyed for housing are the former West School on Douglass Street, a tax-acquired property on Capisic Street and two parcels in North Deering, according to a Feb. 8 memo by Jeff Levine, the city’s urban planning and development director.

Freeing up some of the land at the former West School could be a way to fund an expansion of soccer fields at Dougherty Field, Levine said. The site was initially identified as a potential location for a new homeless shelter, but has since been removed from that discussion.

Levine said the current zoning would allow for five to seven 9,000-square-foot lots for duplexes. If additional land owned by the Maine Department of Transportation on Congress Street could be acquired, the city could add more density through a zoning provision allowing planned-use residential development, such as townhouses. Or the city could amend the zoning map to build more housing, he said.

Additional opportunities exist on the Falmouth town line.

Staff will look into how much of the nearly 5 acres of city-owned land at 622 Auburn St., which is also being considered for a new homeless shelter, and the more than 13 acres of city-owned land at 165 Lambert St. are available for development. The sites are located across Washington Avenue Extension from one another, but contain some wetlands.

The Auburn Street directly abuts a 13-acre parcel of land in Falmouth that is owned by the city. But much of that land also appears to have wetlands, according to a map provided to the committee.

“As that parcel is in a different community, it is a more complicated question as to its future,” Levine wrote. “The zoning appears to allow housing and office uses, but further research is needed.”

The third option being eyed is a tax-acquired property at 99 Capisic St. Levine said the property contains an 1840 Greek Revival home that is in “aesthetic disrepair” but seems structurally sound, at least at first glance. The nearly 1 acre, hilly parcel could be subdivided into two lots with a single-family home and an accessory dwelling unit on each, he said.

Levine said that additional density could be allowed by amending an ordinance designed to encourage the adaptive reuse of structures not in residential use as of 1984. He said the ordinance could be amended to grant additional density to historic renovation projects.

“It is possible that this clause could be amended to also apply to buildings in residential use that receive local historic designation,” he said. “That could allow the site to be used for additional (albeit smaller) units.”

Duson said she expects staff to report back to the committee in April.

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