Artist renderings for the Roux Institute campus at the site of the former B&M Baked Beans factory in East Deering. Rendering by Tsoi Kobus Design and Stimson Landscape Architects

The Portland City Council got a first look Monday at proposed zoning changes that could make way for a graduate school and research center that would include academic buildings, retail space, a hotel and student housing at the former site of the B&M Baked Beans factory.

The council is expected to hold a first read of the proposal Jan. 18, followed by a public hearing and vote on the zoning changes for the Roux Institute on Feb. 6.

During a workshop Monday, councilors were briefed on the plans by Department of Planning and Urban Development staff and had a chance to ask questions. They also sought to address residents’ concerns about traffic plans, opportunities for community involvement, housing and other issues.

“This is huge for Portland and huge for Maine, and there is a lot of anxiety around this and about getting it right,” said District 4 Councilor Andrew Zarro, whose district includes the site at 1 Bean Pot Circle. “I think most of the folks I’ve heard from are in favor of this. They know what the end result is but getting there is the overwhelming part.”

The Roux Institute, part of Northeastern University, is envisioning a high-tech graduate school, business accelerator and training pipeline to boost Maine’s workforce and economy, and that would one day host about 5,000 students on the 13-acre site.

To do so, the institute and IDEALS, a nonprofit formed to site and develop the campus, are seeking a change from the current I-M – moderate impact industrial – zoning to B-5, a mixed-use designation that broadly permits residential, office, retail, restaurants and low-impact industry.


The council is also being asked to approve an institutional overlay zone, an additional layer of zoning allowed around the city’s major medical and educational campuses to regulate and facilitate long-term growth.


Echoing the concerns of some East Deering neighbors, Councilor Mark Dion asked when the city will consider a traffic demand management plan, and whether it’s something over which the council would have any say.

Director of Planning and Urban Development Christine Grimando said the traffic plans will be considered at a later stage and aren’t required as part of zoning considerations.

“The TDM does run with the development proposal and this isn’t one,” Grimando said. “They really are in separate lanes in terms of when they get to the city, and why, and then that would be Planning Board jurisdiction.”

Councilors also expressed interest in hearing more about housing plans at the site, which Deputy Director of Planning and Urban Development Kevin Kraft said is expected to include 175 to 250 new residential units in the first five years and as many as 650 units in two decades.


Chris Mallett, chief administrative officer for the Roux Institute, said the housing will be high density and the institute is focused on making sure it helps provide solutions for the city, potentially freeing up other rental units that would otherwise house students.

“The bottom line is we want to contribute to solutions around this issue as opposed to being a potential constraint on the city’s ability to accommodate what is already a challenging issue,” Mallett said.

Preliminary plans call for over 220,000 square feet of academic space, 200,000 square feet of residential space, a hotel of up to 90,000 square feet and retail space of approximately 10,000 square feet within the first five years, Grimando said.


District 2 Councilor Victoria Pelletier, whose district includes the city’s only existing institutional overlay zone, at Maine Medical Center, said such an area comes with a big footprint and impact on the surrounding neighborhood, and she asked about opportunities for community feedback as growth proceeds.

Sam Reiche, head of operations and real estate for IDEALS, said the nonprofit has been trying to engage with as many neighbors and community members as possible, a process that has already prompted it to adjust the size and scale of the project.


He said developers will continue to have ongoing development advisory committee meetings and neighborhood forums. “We intend to have regular forums to let people know what’s happening, what construction is coming up, what impacts they can expect and also to give everyone in the neighborhood a chance to tell us what’s working and not working,” Reiche said.

The Planning Board approved the zoning changes in November in a series of unanimous votes with the exception of a regulatory framework that was approved 5-1 after board member David Silk expressed concerns about a lack of detail in traffic and transportation plans.

Grimando reminded councilors Monday that the rezoning is not an approval to begin developing the site and that further steps such as site plan review and traffic and building permits will need to occur before any construction happens.

“What the institutional overlay zone does is set parameters for what might happen and how this site might grow,” she said.

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