A proposed redevelopment of the former South Portland public works site on O’Neil Street will include a total of 38 units, with four reserved for affordable housing. Courtesy / Meeting House Hill Park LLC

SOUTH PORTLAND — The Planning Board has given its unanimous support for a project to build 38 residential units at the former public works site on O’Neil Street.

Developer Rich Simon and his partner Ed Rowe are envisioning nine single-family homes, they told Planning Board members Wednesday, along with 16 townhouse-style condominiums and 13 apartments. The two- and three-bedroom units would all be powered by rooftop solar panels, with a focus on sustainable living. The developers also want to build a public park and a community garden.

The proposal will require a contract zone, for which the City Council has the final say; a vote has not yet been scheduled. If the contract zone is approved, the project will go back to the Planning Board for site plan review, which Planning Director Tex Haeuser said would include a rigorous landscaping plan.

In order to create the contract zone, city leaders must find that it’s in conformance with the goals of the Comprehensive Plan, and Haeuser said this week “there are quite a few policy objectives in the Comprehensive Plan that support this project.”

A new residential development on O’Neil Street will include a public park and community garden. Courtesy / Acorn Engineering

Those include, he said, providing a diversity of housing to meet a wide range of  needs for residents, providing “high-quality, well-maintained” recreational facilities and open space, and promoting green building technologies.

Simon said this week he would like to get shovels in the ground as soon as possible, particularly since getting to this point was a long process.

The city first began talking about creating a planned residential neighborhood on the 6-acre site in 2017, after a new 63,000-square-foot public works, parks and municipal services facility opened off Highland Avenue in November 2017.

Simon said developers are aiming for the tenants to be “net-zero,” when it comes to their carbon footprint. With the solar panels and community garden, he said, “our residents will be able to produce their own energy and grow their own food.”

The only public comment Wednesday referred to design details, including buffering and setbacks from neighboring properties, but Planning Board Chairwoman Elsa Mullin said all issues would be addressed during site plan review.

No one objected to the overall proposal, which has already received a lot of public input through various community meetings.

The development would be built in four phases, according to Haeuser.

Under the provisions of the contract zone, all nine single-family homes must be built within two years of final site plan approval. The condos must be built within two to four years and the apartment complex not more than five years later.

The 1-acre public park and community garden would be among the final project details completed and must be built within six years of final approval. Simon said this week that he and Rowe would work closely with the city on the design and placement of the elements, which would be owned by the city and open to the public.

Haeuser said the developers also plan to extend O’Neil Street to connect with Pitt. In addition, Simon and Rowe must ensure the building design is “visibly compatible with the existing neighborhood” on Meetinghouse Hill, which is a historic part of the city comprising mostly single-family homes.

One of the other objectives of the project is to provide affordable housing. To that end, the developers have agreed to retain two apartment units, which will be rented out to households earning 60% or less of the area median income. The South Portland Housing Authority, or a similar agency, will offer two of the homes at a sales price of $200,000.

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