The proposed multifamily housing at 675 Main St. in South Portland would be built to the left of the Howard Johnson hotel, at the center of the map, along the connector to I-295. Contributed / City of South Portland

The South Portland City Council preliminarily approved zoning amendments Tuesday to allow a five-story apartment building that could also include a homeless shelter to be built by the Howard Johnson hotel on Main Street.

New Gen Hospitality Group, owner of the hotel now being used as a temporary shelter, wants to build an 80-unit multifamily building northwest of the hotel along the connector to I-295. Its plan gives it the option of contracting a section of the building out for use as a shelter for up to up to 39 people.

The plans are in the early stages and the final purpose of the proposed development, including whether it will include affordable or market-rate housing or both, will not be solidified until New Gen presents a site plan for Planning Board review. The council has the right to reverse the zoning changes if the applicants’ plan changes significantly.

“We’re concentrating this building mainly on two- and three-bedroom housing, which is a shortfall right now in the city,” said Ron McSorley of Sebago Technics, who represented the applicants at Tuesday’s meeting.

If a shelter is part of the project, it would be the first in the city, which last year designated areas where it would allow the operation of small shelters for up to eight people, medium shelters for up to 39 and large shelters for a maximum of 100.

New Gen initially proposed building a shelter for up to 100 people on the site, but the council rejected that request because the property is not in an area designated for a large-scale shelter.


“Less than a year ago, we went through a pretty comprehensive process where we identified locations in the city that would be appropriate for small-, medium- and large-scale shelters, and this (location) was specifically identified as appropriate for medium-scale. So, less than a year in, changing that, when we don’t really have a defined plan, especially for what’s even going to happen here, seems a bit premature,” said City Manager Scott Morelli.

South Portland Planning Director Milan Nevajda said Wednesday that homeless shelters are located in multi-use buildings in larger metropolitan areas elsewhere. South Portland ordinances permit shelters to be part of residential and commercial structures, but they must be separate from hotels and motels.

If New Gen decides to include a shelter in its plans, McSorley said, it would not be the operator.

“If there were to be a shelter use, there would be a separate entity who would run that, as there is right now at Howard Johnson,” he explained.

Catholic Charities Maine, ProsperityME and MaineHousing operate the temporary shelter at the hotel with plans to have transitioned its occupants out by June 30, terms they and the council agreed to last year. Last month, those organizations reported they were on track to do so.

The council was unanimous in its first approval to the changes creating a new zone, the Main Street Commercial Residential district. It allows for a maximum building height of 95 feet, as opposed to the current restriction of 35 feet, and a density of 15 units per acre. It also creates setback requirements of either 15 feet or half of the building’s height, similar to that of the current zones.


Councilor Richard Matthews asked town staff if there had been any community outreach about the New Gen proposal or if nearby residents have had any complaints about it. Nevajda said the Planning Board had received a handful of comments from the public before and during its review of the concept plan.

“They were generally supportive of the proposal,” Nevajda said. “I think there were some questions about how the shelter will actually, physically manifest if it is part of the mix that gets built out.”

Nevajda said the only access to the new building would be from Westbrook Street, so traffic would be kept out of nearby neighborhoods. The small part of the site that runs adjacent to residential properties would be used for parking, according to the plan, with the new building bordering the connector, also known as Samantha Smith Way.

Any shelter there would have to meet city requirements, including offering on-site services.

The council will take a second and final vote on the zone change at a future meeting.

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