The City Council has offered Avesta Housing the option to lease a portion of 1125 Brighton Ave. for an assisted living facility and housing for homeless individuals. Courtesy / City of Portland

PORTLAND — Avesta Housing has been given the go-ahead to look into building a facility for chronically homeless people 55 and over on the Brighton Avenue site that was once under consideration for the city’s new homeless shelter.

The City Council gave Avesta Housing Development Corporation the option to lease part of the lot at 1125 Brighton Ave. next to the Barron Center for $1 through Oct. 1, 2020. While not an official lease, it gives Avesta time to explore the feasibility of building a 36-unit assisted living facility, 30 units of independent-living housing and a 15-bed assessment shelter on the site.

“This is not a final property transaction,” Councilor Justin Costa said before the council unanimously approved the lease option at its Dec. 16 meeting. “This simply gives them the right to exercise a lease at a future date.”

The council also agreed to market for housing development three other city-owned parcels at 21 Randall St., the former West School site on Douglass Street, and 165 Lambert St.

The Brighton Avenue facility would be similar to Avesta’s properties at Huston Commons, Florence House and Logan Place that provide permanent residences to individuals dealing with chronic homelessness. The assessment center would provide temporary shelter – up two weeks –  while determining the appropriate residential option for the client.

In Portland, as of October 2019, an average of 398 people stayed at city homeless shelters per night, according to Portland’s Health & Human Services Department. Of the 6,454 homeless people in the state between 2017 and June 2018, 681 were older than 55, the most recent Maine Housing data shows.

The Brighton Avenue property was considered for a potential site for a new city homeless shelter, but after an outcry from neighbors and homeless advocates who said it was too far from downtown, that idea was scrapped and the city decided to build the shelter on Riverside Street. Since then, city officials have been talking with Avesta about the latest proposal, Costa said.

Nason’s Corner resident Michael Archer said the suggestion of placing a large facility for the homeless in the Brighton Avenue neighborhood continues to be “a sore spot for people in the area.”

“Once you put something through, we are the ones who have to live with it,” he said. “That is why I want to know exactly what’s going there. I don’t think you should give them the lease until you exactly what they want to do,” Archer said at the meeting.

Costa said the proposal is “nowhere near final.”

A longer lease for Avesta would be negotiated by the council and the buildings’ site plan would be subject to Planning Board review.

“They haven’t figured out what it would look like or how it would be built. There are no blueprints. They need to go through the process to see if it is feasible,” said Councilor Belinda Ray.

Nevertheless, Rose Dynda and Celine Whitehead, both residents of Holm Avenue, which abuts the property, don’t support the proposal.

“I don’t think this is a good idea. This is a residential neighborhood,” Whitehead said.

The City Council has approved marketing part of the former West School site for a housing development. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The Brighton Avenue parcel is among several properties the city is eyeing for housing.

Portland’s Plan 2030, the city’s comprehensive plan, identified “the disposition of city-owned property as a part of a larger strategy of leveraging underused properties” for housing that is affordable for low income and working-class families.

Of the six sites the city is looking to market for housing development, the properties on Randall, Douglass and Lambert streets “are ready to move forward,” said Mary Davis, director of the city’s Housing and Community Development Division.

The third of an acre Randall Street property abuts the Front Street development owned by the Portland Housing Authority, which has expressed interest in it.

Heather Sellars, who lives next to the Randall Street property, said she has no issue with the city selling the property for housing, but she does worry about the potential scope of development.

“I am concerned about that, but I may be jumping the gun of how big is it going to be built up,” Sellers said.

The city estimates the Douglass Street site of the former West School could accommodate up to 47 residential units. If the property is sold, proceeds could be used to offset some of the costs of some of the city’s future recreation facility needs.

Only 4.5 acres of the 13-acre parcel at 165 Lambert St. could be developed because of its wetlands and steep topography.

George Rheault, of West Bayside, said rather than put the properties on the market, he’d rather see the city reach out to members of the design community to see what they thought could be done with them.

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