Preble Street’s plans to establish a healing center in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking has hit a roadblock.

The nonprofit social service agency was hoping to open the new center at 55 Portland St. and has described it as a 24-hour shelter where women can recover from trauma and connect with counseling and other services.

But city officials say that the City Council would have to change the zoning rules there and amend a purchase-and-sale agreement attached to the property before a shelter could be located at the site.

City officials say they remain receptive to the concept of a refuge for women recovering from abuse and trafficking, but the legal obstacles emerged after city staff and councilors looked deeper at the specific proposal and location.

The issues also were raised after some Bayside residents pushed back against Preble Street’s proposal, saying the neighborhood could not support a new shelter in addition to the other social services concentrated there.

Dan D’Ippolito, community engagement director for Preble Street, said in an email that the agency is scheduled to meet Monday with city officials to see if there are any city-owned parcels that could accommodate their women’s shelter. Preble Street has not decided whether to ask the council to make the changes needed to establish the shelter at 55 Portland St.


“We are currently doing our due diligence on the purchase of 55 Portland St., and we’ll continue that process,” D’Ippolito said. “We firmly believe there is a need for a place to help women who are survivors of trauma and trafficking to heal and recover, and that such a facility fits perfectly into the city’s overall plan, is entirely privately funded, and should be welcomed by the city.”

City Manager Jon Jennings and City Councilor Belinda Ray, who represents Bayside, said they both support the concept and believe a shelter for women escaping abuse is desperately needed. But they are not convinced that Portland Street is the right location.

City officials are currently looking to move Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter for homeless adults out of Bayside. They’re looking both to create a better overnight shelter and break up a concentration of social services that have taken root in that part of the city.

Zoning rules allow shelters in some parts of the neighborhood, but not at 55 Portland St. Any zoning changes would have to go through a Planning Board review and be approved by the City Council.

“To expand the zoning (for shelters) doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of the neighborhood or the people served,” Ray said.

The building being eyed for the 30- to 40-bed women’s shelter used to be administrative offices for Portland’s Public Works Department. In recent years, the city sold that property, along with several others, for redevelopment.


Those sales agreements for the Bayside land were all tied to a specific redevelopment plan adopted by the city. In this case, 55 Portland St. was going to be redeveloped into offices.

Greg Mitchell, the city’s economic development director, told city councilors last week that the sales agreement for 55 Portland St. gives the new owner, Ford Reiche, one year from January 2019 to submit to the city a complete site plan application to develop the property and 30 months to commence redevelopment activities. Failure to do so could cost Reiche up to $200,000, he said.

Mitchell said the sales agreement also includes a clause that would impose a fee if the building, or any portion of it, is sold to a nonprofit agency such as Preble Street that is exempt from paying property taxes – the nonprofit would have to pay an annual fee equivalent to property taxes that would be owed. The tax bill for that property is not clear because it had been city-owned.

Reiche said in an email last Tuesday that he entered into an agreement with Preble Street to purchase the building on March 18, a few weeks after receiving what he thought was Jennings’ support for the shelter plan.

“When Mark Swann and I talked to the city manager before I would agree to enter an agreement with Preble Street, it was my intention to be helpful on this issue, but only if the city ultimately wants to move in this direction with 55 Portland St.,” Reiche said. “I am fully aware of the current restrictions in my deal with the city, and that these could only be changed if the City Council wanted to see this project happen at that address. My agreement to make this possible for the city’s consideration was a good faith step in that direction, which I cleared in advance with the city manager.”

Jennings said he supports the concept of a healing center for victims of abuse and human trafficking. But he said he never made any promises about it being located at 55 Portland St. He said both parties were initially informed that it was unclear whether it would be allowed under the current zoning.


Jennings said he never raised any concerns with Preble Street about the conditions contained in the purchase-and-sale agreement with Reiche, because he didn’t think it was the city’s place to do so.

“I don’t feel it’s our responsibility to notify a potential buyer about any restrictions placed in the agreement we have with the person who bought the property,” Jennings said. “That’s a private transaction between the property owner and the proposed buyer – that’s why we have dealt directly with Mr. Reiche.”

The healing center proposal has been discussed at the same time as city officials and Preble Street are talking about the future of Preble Street’s Resource Center, a drop-in day shelter in Bayside for people in need of a place to rest, take showers or do laundry and access other services.

Preble Street is seeking to cease operating the center and the city has had preliminary discussions with the nonprofit about leasing the space in order to continue using it as an overflow shelter when the city’s Oxford Street facility exceeds capacity, as well as to use it as a day shelter. Jennings said last Tuesday that Preble Street initially requested too much money to lease the space, but he’s hoping to continue negotiations.

In late April, however, Preble Street executive Mark Swann sent an email to supporters saying that the agency plans to continue operating the resource center until the city finalizes its plans for a new homeless shelter. Also, Swann said, shutting down the resource center would be contingent on the city maintaining its 30-year commitment to sheltering anyone in need, referring to Jennings’ budget proposal to effectively limit access to overnight shelter for single adults to 229 people. No other Preble Street programs would be affected.

“If the city relocates the Oxford Street Shelter and continues its 30-year commitment to shelter anyone in need, we will consider winding down services at the Resource Center. But not until then,” Swann said.

Councilors are still debating possible locations for a new homeless shelter to replace the Oxford Street Shelter. Once a site is chosen, a facility will have to be designed and approved by the Planning Board – and a funding source will need to be identified – before any construction can begin.

The council is holding a public hearing Monday on two potential shelter locations – Angelo’s Acre on Commercial Street and 654 Riverside St. The council is not planning to vote Monday.


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