Kevin Bunker, left, explains his proposal for a boarding house at 66 State St. to the Portland Planning Board last week. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — Developers with plans for property at State and Danforth streets are finding it can be difficult to make room for open green space.

The Portland Planning Board has urged Developers Collaborative to find a way to get more open space into its plan for 66 State St.

Kevin Bunker, principal of Developers Collaborative, met with the Planning Board in a July 23 workshop to discuss plans to renovate the former St. Dominic’s Parochial School for Boys at 66 State St. into a 38-unit lodging house. They also want to construct a new building behind it to accommodate 15 studios and 15 one-bedroom apartments.

The lodging house would be targeted to women making less than half the area median income, which in Portland is $65,100 for an individual. Lodging house tenants, Bunker said, will have their own rooms, but shared bathrooms and kitchen.

The new four-story apartment building would provide housing for those making 60% of the area median income.

Michael Tadema-Wielandt, an engineer with Terradyn Consultants, said the driveway behind the old school building used to access St. Dominic’s Apartments and the Maine Irish Heritage Center will remain, but be reconfigured.

David Lloyd, an architect with Archetype Architects, said the new building will “fit contextually in the neighborhood,” which is home to Greek Revival, Federal and Colonial-style buildings and will feature brickwork reflective of the former school building next door.

“Overall I think it is a nice building, sensitive to its environment,” Planning Board member Austin Smith said.

Peter Hawkes, of Danforth Street, said his issue with the proposal isn’t the appearance of the building, but the size. He said Developers Collaborative is “shoehorning a good-size building into a pretty small space.” Hawkes said he would like to see green space added to the project, something Planning Board members urged, too.

Planning Board Chairman Sean Dundon and other members asked Bunker to see what he could do to get some outdoor gathering space on the property.

“I find the project appealing and I’m glad to see affordable housing happening, especially this type of housing,” Planning Board member Bob Dunfey said. “But I would like to see a little bit more green space.”

While Bunker said he recognizes “there isn’t a lot of green space now and there won’t be when we are done,” he said there may be a possibility of adding a little pocket park or offering communal green space with the St. Dominic Apartment building next door, which he also owns.

Although it is not green space, Bunker said, there will likely be some common gathering space available in the building for residents of the apartments.

While the lack of green space was also a concern for Steve Morrison, who owns two properties across the street, he said he is also worried about the scope of the project.

“I am concerned about the density,” Morrison said. “It’s just a lot of people at that corner.”

Ellen Murphy, a neighborhood resident, was also concerned about the density, but generally supported the proposal.

“It is really important for a housing-first approach to homelessness,” she said.

Amistad, which operates a day program at 66 State St., will most likely offer its peer-support services to residents of the facilities, pending approval by the organization’s board.

“We wouldn’t be this far with Developers Collaborative if I didn’t think we would have the support of the board,” Amistad Executive Director Brian Townsend said. The Amistad board is expected to meet next on Thursday, Aug. 15, he said.

Developers Collaborative bought the property from Catholic Charities last year for $1.3 million and had originally planned to build condominiums on the site. But after Bunker changed his plans to provide affordable housing, the City Council on July 15 approved a 30-year tax increment financing agreement that will return a portion of new taxes generated on the property to help pay for project costs.

“It is pretty clear (affordable housing) is needed in the city and is probably more important than what I was thinking of doing before, and is an improvement to what was planned before,” Bunker said.

The proposal is set to have a public hearing at the Aug. 13 Planning Board meeting.

“I think you are doing a good job fitting this into the neighborhood and when we see it again, it will be even better,” Vice Chairman Brandon Mazer said.


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