Artist renderings for the Roux Institute campus at the site of the former B&M Baked Beans factory in East Deering. Rendering by CambridgeSeven

The Portland City Council voted Monday night to approve a rezoning of the former B&M Baked Beans factory in East Deering, paving the way for a new graduate school and research center at the site.

The rezoning – which includes a change from industrial to mixed-use zoning and the creation of a special “institutional overlay zone” – is a key first step toward redeveloping the site for the Roux Institute at Northeastern University.

The council voted unanimously to approve three zoning amendments after also approving the addition of neighborhood associations and other stakeholders to a community advisory group that will provide feedback to the institute.

“If we’re talking about the council’s goals of housing, innovation and smart growth, I don’t think I could vote against this,” said Councilor Andrew Zarro, who represents District 4, where the project is located.

The council votes came after a public comment session in which several people said they were looking forward to the educational and economic development opportunities presented by the institute.

Colin Campbell, who lives in the neighborhood, said he recently discovered the Roux Institute is offering a business program he had previously only been able to find in Boston. “I think what’s most important and what I want to get across is the importance of the education and the access,” Campbell said. “I grew up in Bangor and would really like to keep my career and have an education here.”


Peaks Island resident and former planning board member John Carroll also urged the council to support the rezoning. “Could any institution in Maine ever make this happen?” Carroll said. “With the resources they’re bringing, it’s an unimaginable gift.”

Others said they were concerned about traffic and the amount of commercial development.

“We don’t oppose the Roux Institute per se, and we have said that repeatedly,” said Cheryl Leeman, a former city councilor from East Deering. “We are not NIMBY’s. We are YIMBY’s. We welcome them into our neighborhood, but we feel, despite some of the comments you are hearing, that we have been left out of the process.”

Leeman said there is an “overwhelming consensus with regards to holding them accountable and being transparent about the profound traffic impact this is going to have in the neighborhood where we live.”

Several residents also asked that the council postpone a decision on the rezoning until a comprehensive traffic impact study is completed, though councilors said such a study will come at a later step in development.

“The traffic issue is so integral to the success of this project,” said Allison Brown. “I think (a traffic study) should be done before there’s any further movement on this issue.”


Brown said that as a resident and an educator, she finds the project exciting, but “we need to make sure 1 Bean Pot Circle has the infrastructure to support a project of this size.”

The council received 70 pages of written public comment on the rezoning, including a letter from Gov. Janet Mills urging them to support the change. The governor said she rarely weighs in on municipal issues, but was moved to do so by the educational and economic development opportunities presented by the institute.

“The Roux Institute project has far-reaching impacts for the entire state and is perhaps the largest investment in Maine’s innovation economy in a generation,” Mills wrote. “The Roux Institute’s Portland campus will expand quality education for graduate students, attract business investment, boost research and development and provide an anchor for life and computer sciences in Maine.”

The approved zoning changes include a move from industrial to mixed-use zoning as well as creation of a new institutional overlay zone. An institutional overlay zone is an additional layer of zoning used for the city’s major medical and educational campuses to regulate and facilitate long-term growth.

The Portland Planning Board approved the changes in November, and recommended the council do the same.

The Roux Institute was established nearly three years ago with a $100 million donation from David Roux, a Lewiston native and technology entrepreneur. Its founders envisioned a high-tech graduate school, business accelerator and training pipeline to boost Maine’s workforce and economy.


The school currently enrolls about 500 students and is operating out of a leased space at 100 Fore St. Within five years, the Roux Institute plans to enroll 1,700 students and provide 175 to 250 units of housing, while the 20-year plan calls for 5,000 students and up to 650 units of housing at the site.

In other news Monday, the council voted unanimously to indefinitely postpone a request from Avesta Housing for $4.2 million in city funding for the Winchester Woods project. Avesta had requested the money last fall as part of a $16 million plan to purchase the Winchester Woods development under construction in East Deering and turn it into housing for asylum seekers.

The council postponed a decision on the funding in December after city staff said there were too many outstanding questions on specifics, and a day later Avesta said it decided not to move ahead with the project.

The interim city manager said last month that Avesta was trying to restructure the project, but a letter from Avesta’s president and CEO to city officials last week said “we have explored all possible structures and options while assessing the many moving parts” and that the project would not work.

“We continue to try and work with Avesta to address the significant need for housing we have for asylum seekers as well as other populations throughout the city,” said Interim City Manager Danielle West. “We look forward to continued discussions with them as well as the state, and we will continue to try to find other projects that are open to address this need.”

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