This digital rendering shows the proposed 18-story apartment building, right of center. It would be taller than any building in Portland, including the 13-story One City Center, at left of center in this image. Courtesy of Redfern Properties/Ryan Senatore Architecture

The Portland City Council voted unanimously Monday to grant a zoning change for a downtown high rise that would become the tallest building in the state – a title that currently belongs to Franklin Towers.

Redfern Properties wants to erect an 18-story building at Temple and Federal streets, behind the post office. Monday’s vote allows the developer to build housing on the upper floors of the 190-foot structure, which previous zoning would have prohibited.

City Councilor Belinda Ray, who represents the district, said she supported the change after the developer agreed to work with the owner of the Portland House of Music to design a building that would muffle noise coming from the entertainment venue across the street.

“I’m comfortable supporting this,” Ray said. “It’s going to give us much needed housing.”

Jonathan Culley of Redfern Properties said the project at 200 Federal St. would include 263 apartments, 27 of them deed-restricted to remain affordable to middle-income families. He said rents would range from $1,300 to $2,000.

“These are not luxury condominiums,” Culley said. “This is rental housing for working people.”

The project, which faces additional review before the historic preservation and planning boards, would be on the plaza and surface parking lots behind the post office at 400 Congress St., near City Hall. It would include more than 2,000 square-feet of ground-floor retail space.

Once completed, the proposed building would be the tallest in the state, surpassing Franklin Towers by 15 feet.

A 20- to 25-story building has been proposed for the Old Port, but that developer has been re-evaluating the project during the pandemic.

Under existing zoning, buildings within the downtown area near Congress Street can be up to 190 feet tall. However, only 150 feet of a building’s height – roughly 14 stories – can be occupied as offices, residences or other uses. The additional 40 feet can only serve as an “architectural cap” to enhance design or hide rooftop mechanical systems.

Mayor Kate Snyder said allowing additional housing density in downtown – where people can walk, ride bikes and use public transportation – only made sense.

“Use of that additional 40 feet is valuable in our most dense setting in the city of Portland,” Snyder said. “I love and appreciate this is rental housing because that is a struggle.”

Christine Grimando, the city’s planning and urban development director, said city officials will evaluate whether to remove the architectural cap requirement for the rest of the downtown area as part of the ongoing effort to rewrite the city’s land use code.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to rename the city’s housing trust fund in honor of former City Councilor Jill Duson, who retired last year after two decades in elected office in Portland.

Councilors hailed Duson’s advocacy for low-income renters, as well as social and racial justice throughout her life, as the reasons for renaming the pool of money the Jill C. Duson Housing Trust. She also advocated for the city to make an annual contribution to the housing trust, which is used to help build affordable housing.

Councilor Tae Chong noted that Duson was recently appointed to the Maine Human Rights Commission.

“She’s a pioneer and has been a compass and navigator for truth and social justice for so many of us and she continues to do that on the Human Rights Commission,” Chong said. 

Duson said she was “embarrassed” by how much the gesture meant to her. And she hoped that having her name on the fund would remind councilors to allocate money during annual budget discussions.

“For me, having my name in the room for that conversation is the true valuable outcome of this,” she said. 

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