A local developer and owner of one of the largest residential property management companies in Portland plans to build a 170-unit apartment building in the Bayside neighborhood.

The proposal is the largest apartment project to come before city planners since a seven-story building with 139 units on Congress Street was approved in 2015. And it is the latest in a series of redevelopment projects that have reshaped what had been an industrial neighborhood at the edge of Portland’s downtown.

Tom Watson, the owner of Port Property Management, purchased 52 Hanover St. from the city in 2017. The nearly 1.4-acre parcel, along with several others nearby, was put on the market when the city moved its public works operations out of Bayside to Canco Road.

His proposal goes before the city’s Planning Board on Tuesday. It comes amid a tight housing market and as voters are weighing citizen initiatives on Portland’s Nov. 3 ballot that could place limits on rent increases and impose other new requirements on landlords and housing developers that backers say would protect renters and access to housing. Some warn the measures would halt the construction of most new housing and hurt the city’s rental market, and Watson is a major contributor to the PAC opposing those referendum questions.

Watson originally had planned to convert the old public works garage into a makers space for artists. But, over the summer he received City Council approval to amend his purchase agreement to build an apartment building to complement the diverse mix of commercial uses that have taken root there.

“What I felt that part of the neighborhood was missing was a 24/7 presence and a 24/7 presence is residential,” Watson said. “I felt creating an apartment community would really turn that part of the neighborhood around.”

Since the properties were sold in 2017, the area of Bayside roughly defined by Kennebec, Parris, Lancaster and Hanover Street has been transformed from an old industrial area of heavy equipment, garages and sand piles into a burgeoning neighborhood, offering a little of everything that Portland is known for – food, drink and the creative economy.

One former traffic engineering building at 65 Hanover, which also has frontage on Alder Street, now houses The Public Works, a collaborative workspace, and other offices, including the Barrett Made building firm and Acorn Engineering. And a workforce condo building at 60 Parris St., built by developer Jack Soley, is fully constructed and occupied.

The former General Store at 82 Hanover St. was redeveloped by Watson and now houses the Port Property Management office, which was previously located on Grant Street in Parkside. The large building also includes the office furniture store Exterus, the architectural and building firm Kickerbocker Group, Fortune Teller Tattoo and Cycle Bar fitness center on the Kennebec Street side.

At the corner of Parris and Kennebec Street, the finishing touches are being placed on a seven-story apartment building being constructed by affordable housing developer Nathan Szanton and Bayside property owner Ross Furman. The building at 178 Kennebec St., which has teal highlights, includes mix of affordable and market rate one-bedroom and studio apartments restricted to tenants at least 55 years old and artist studios and galleries on the ground floor.

The other side of the General Store houses Banded Brewing Co., The Yard bar and Wilson Country BBQ restaurant, all of which have outdoor seating in a courtyard along Lancaster Street corridor.

Charlie Mitchell, owner of the Bayside Bowl, which has been in the neighborhood for 10 years, said it’s been exciting – and even surprising – to watch the new businesses spring up so quickly within the last few years. Mitchell, who expanded Bayside Bowl in 2017, said he’s looking forward to seeing an influx of housing, as well.

“From our end, I’m happy to see a development go in with housing,” Mitchell said. “I think it will be good for the neighborhood and from our standpoint as a business it will be positive.”

Jeff Levine, the city’s former planning and urban development director who still lives in Portland, is also encouraged by the neighborhood changes and believes more housing will only help rejuvenate the neighborhood. He said what’s happening on the ground is what planners and other city officials envisioned years ago when they put the properties on the market.

“I think it’s really nice to see the area develop and grow organically – that was the strategy originally for picking different developers for different buildings and it seems to be working,” said Levine, who left city government to join the faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. “Anything that contributes to the housing stock, particularly in Bayside, welcome.”

The city also sold 55 Portland St. to Ford Reiche, who originally intended to use it as office space. However, Reiche began working with the social service provider, Preble Street, on a plan to convert the building into a healing center for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. But the city and neighbors opposed that plan, which officials said would require a zone change. Reiche sold the property in December to Preble Street for $1.85 million, according to city tax records. Future plans for that property are unclear.

Sarah Michiewicz, president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, said the association has been encouraged by all the redevelopment plans, except for 55 Portland St., which she called a “missed opportunity.” She said Watson’s original proposal for a maker’s space would have been a good way to reuse the old garage building, but housing is needed more.

“171 units of housing is a higher and better use, especially considering the desperate need for new housing in Portland,” Michniewicz said. “Bayside is such a great location, so walkable and so close to some of the peninsula’s greatest amenities, and that area is right at one of the most important gateways to the city.”

Watson’s proposal calls for apartments with ground floor retail and a two-story parking garage. It will go before the Planning Board Tuesday for a workshop.

Watson said he plans to build a similar outdoor courtyard at 52 Hanover St, facing the General Store, with a 10-foot-wide bike and pedestrian roadway. All told, there will be a 60-foot wide open space available for tenants, customers and others.

The proposal includes eight ground-floor retail spaces, including four with patio space, and a parking garage. The residential units would built above in what appear to be three different sections, ranging from four to six additional stories. An architectural rendering shows green space on top of a portion of the roughly 190-vehicle garage.

The city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance requires 17 of those units to be affordable to someone earning 100 percent of the area median income, which in 2020 ranges from $70,630 for a single person household to $90,810 for a three person household. Watson said he plans to build those units, rather provide a payment to the city.

The project will include a range of housing, from 400 square-foot micro-units to 1,400-square-foot townhouses, according to a project summary given to councilors over the summer. The plan calls for 37 studios, 97 one-bedroom and 36 two-bedroom units.

Watson said he’s currently projecting market rate rents ranging from $1,350 to $1,900, but those could change since the project will take two years to receive the necessary approvals and be built.

“There has not been much in the way of apartment construction in years,” Watson said. “We think there’s a market for it.”


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