The Portland City Council voted 6-3 Wednesday to approve a zone change that doubles the amount of housing that can be built on an undeveloped lot near Morrill’s Corner.

The change will allow the developer, Payson & Wescott LLC, to submit plans to build 20 duplexes, a total of 40 units, on three acres of land on Harvard Street near University Park, which contains nine acres of protected woodland between Forest and Washington Avenues.

The approval reverses a previous decision by councilors, who voted against the same zone change proposed by the same developer nearly 15 years ago.

City Councilors Nicholas Mavodones, Justin Costa and Spencer Thibodeau voted against the rezoning, which drew organized opposition from local residents. While only nine people addressed the council Wednesday, one councilor indicated that he had received over 400 emails about the project.

Councilors were again caught in between calls to increase housing supply and protect the character of existing neighborhoods. Opponents worried that the added traffic would make Harvard Street, which doesn’t have sidewalks, more hazardous to pedestrians.

“Your decision tonight will make an impact on the city that will continue forever,” said Harvard Street resident Linda McLoon, who worried that the development would add 80 vehicles to neighborhood streets. “The people of Portland will have to live with a terrible mistake.”


“This particular plan is not in the best interest of this neighborhood,” said Woodlawn Avenue resident Elizabeth Rose. “I don’t understanding why we’re shoving something into a tiny parcel of land because it seems like a good idea for this developer. I am not opposed to him developing his property. I am opposed to poor city planning.”

Elizabeth Rose helped organize opposition to a developer’s proposal to rezone forestland near Morrill’s Corner to allow construction of 20 duplexes. She is pictured in July on Harvard Path, which would become a paved street behind her house. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The current R-3 zone would allow for 20 single-family homes, while the R-5 would allow 40 units. But Michael Payson, the developer, said the economics of building single-family homes simply don’t work and that other concerns raised by neighbors, including building design and traffic, would be addressed through the Planning Board process.

“If I could have built under R-3, I could have done it 10 years ago, 12 years ago,” Payson said. “For me a vote against a zone change, just like it was in 2005, is a vote against housing development on that site. And that may be your preference but I would challenge you to find a better site in the city for the housing that’s needed.”

Payson previously estimated that each unit would sell for around $350,000 That’s close to the median sales price of a single-family home in Cumberland County, which was $325,000 in 2019, according to the Maine Association of Realtors.

Costa, who represents the district, said the proposal would alter the neighborhood of primarily of single-family homes. He said the council needs to think more strategically about how to confront the city’s housing shortage, saying he thinks the public is more concerned about protecting neighborhood character than increasing housing supply.

He urged the council to slow down, noting that rezoning requests have become very divisive in the city.


“Now is the opportunity to do everything we can to rebuild a sense of public trust in the process,” Costa said. “We need to go slowly enough to bring folks along and make sure people feel bought into the process and the vision of where we’re going.”

Other councilors pushed back on the notion that the duplexes would be out of place in the neighborhood.

City Councilor Belinda Ray noted that the site was located near Washington Avenue, a traffic corridor with public transportation available.

“This is another place in the city where I think up-zoning – allowing a little more density – is incredibly appropriate and does fit very well with our comprehensive plan,” Ray said.

City Councilor Tae Chong said that his neighborhood had similar concerns 15 years ago when zoning was changed to allow a 16-unit condominium project to move forward. They feared that the building would look out of place and increased traffic would decrease the quality of life in the neighborhood.

“We discovered it really wasn’t true,” Chong said. “There really wasn’t any increase in traffic. We still had kids playing in the neighborhoods. Even though it’s 16 compared to 40, it really didn’t have an impact on the quality of life on the rest of the residents.”

Mayor Kate Snyder disclosed that she had a previous business venture with the developer that “has since dissolved,” but she did not recuse herself from voting on the zone change.

On Thursday, Snyder said Payson was an investor in Zylo Media, which her husband, Colin Snyder, helped found. Zylo dissolved in 2017. And Snyder said the city attorney found it did not constitute a conflict of interest for her to vote on the project.

City Attorney Danielle West-Chuhta did recuse herself from rezoning request, because she lives in University Park neighborhood.

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