The owners of the Howard Johnson hotel in South Portland would be allowed to build a five-story, 80-unit apartment building on their property under new zoning the City Council approved last week.

The project itself, planned for the west side of the hotel property at 675 Main St. along the Interstate 295 connector, would have to be approved by the city Planning Board if it is to move forward.

Because of confusion among residents and some councilors, a New Gen Hospitality Management representative and city staff emphasized at the March 7 council meeting that a homeless shelter is currently not part of the proposed project.

As part of the new zone, New Gen last month asked to be allowed to build a large-scale homeless shelter for up to 100 people on the site. The council denied that request Feb. 5 because just months earlier it had designated the area as suitable for only small- or medium-scale shelters for up to 39 people.

“The applicant is not proposing to put a shelter … there right now,” said Rob McSorley of Sebago Technics, representing Next Gen, at last week’s meeting.

“The applicant has never expressed that (a shelter) is a formal component of the build-out,” said Planning Director Milan Nevajda. “Housing is proposed for up to 80 units. However, they did want to set up a new zone and did want to leave that option open if, in the future, (a small- or medium-sized shelter) presented itself as being appropriate at this site.”


Medium-scale shelters are already allowed at the site under current zoning, but applicants are required to go through a Planning Board process and receive an operating license from the council.

In working on the proposal over the past year, McSorley said, Next Gen heard from “community leaders” that multibedroom apartments are needed in the city.

“Because of that, we have focused this particular building mainly on two- and three-bedroom housing,” McSorley said, with 25 two-bedroom, 45 three-bedroom and 10 one-bedroom apartments planned.

Whether the apartments would be affordable or market-rate housing or both has not yet been disclosed. Nevajda said that information is usually presented when applicants submit site plans to the Planning Board, and they only have a concept design so far.

Howard Johnson and two other hotels New Gen owns in the city provided shelter to unhoused people and asylum-seeking families throughout the pandemic. Thornton Heights residents who live near Howard Johnson told the council last week that the neighborhood has changed for the worse ever since.

Ryan Edwards said he doesn’t think the council should make changes to benefit New Gen, whether it’s to permit housing or a shelter.


“I’m just very cautious that we’re going to change a zoning ordinance for a company that has not been a good neighbor,” he said.

Stephanie Edwards said she and her neighbors routinely witness drug use and break-ins and that “these three hotels were our problem children.”

Pamela Secord agreed.

“There was theft, there were break-ins, there were people in my backyard that I didn’t know,” Secord said. “People passed out in front of the 7-Eleven and in the park behind Aroma Joe’s. It was just a daily (occurrence).”

Shannon Gorham said she doesn’t walk down Main Street alone anymore, “and I’ve lived there my whole life.”

Residents were also concerned that children living at the new development would add to overcrowding at nearby Skillin Elementary School.


Councilors passed the new zone, 6-1, also emphasizing that the housing project would have to be approved by the Planning Board to move forward and a shelter is not being proposed at this time. Councilor Richard Matthews voted against the zone change.

“I don’t know all of you, but I feel your pain and what you’ve gone through,” Matthews said to the residents at the meeting. “My personal opinion is that New Gen took in a lot of people, but they didn’t say, ‘Hey, South Portland, why don’t we give you a little bit of a discount on rooms?’

“They had us pay the full rate and we paid millions and millions and millions of dollars and, to me, that’s just not a good co-partner to work with and I will not support this.”

If New Gen wanted to build a medium-scale shelter in the future, the Planning Board would have to vet the project and hold a public hearing on it, and the council would then have to grant a license to operate it. Any shelter in the city must meet a lengthy list of requirements, including having sanitary and laundry facilities, security, adequate exterior lighting, access to transit and on-site services. If granted a license, they would need to renew it annually.

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