Portland vs. Her People

By JEFF INGLIS  |  March 19, 2014

Listing off nearly a dozen active projects, Soley echoes that sentiment: “If you look at almost every corner of the city, there is substantial development going on.” With a tone of wonder audible in his voice, he says, “this is one of the most spectacular periods of development in the history of Portland.”

And that era is only continuing. The redevelopment of Franklin Street could open many acres of developable land in the heart of the city, which could be worth as much as $1 million per acre, a real-estate analyst told the Portland Press Herald.

As we plot that area’s future, we hope these lessons help Portlanders — both in and out of City Hall — reflect on one question, as Brennan posed it: “Is this development reflective of where we want to go as a city?”

Jeff Inglis can be reached at jeff@jeffinglis.com.


*Williston-West Church*
Summer 2011
Williston-West Church merges with Immanuel Baptist Church and moves worship to High Street. The beautiful, historic Williston-West Church is sold to Frank Monsour, an Australian businessman who proposes converting the parish house into residential space and office space for up to 14 of his employees; a future concept is to convert the sanctuary into either a community hall or a performing-arts venue.
May 2012 The Planning Board hears nine hours of public testimony, and entered into the record 97 letters and a 140-signature petition opposing the idea, according to the Forecaster’s report of that meeting. Objections relate to the city’s comprehensive plan, which protects the residential character of the West End neighborhood (and other parts of the city). Putting a business in the middle of an upscale residential area seems to run counter to the overall plan.
June 2012 Fifty people, about half in favor and half opposed, speak to the City Council during a two-and-a-half-hour public hearing, the Portland Press Herald reports. The council votes 6-3 to approve the plan, which involves a zoning change to allow the business (opposing were John Anton, John Coyne, and Cheryl Leeman).
July 2012 Twelve neighbors sue Monsour and the city, asking a Superior Court judge if the city went too far in changing the property’s zoning.
December 2013 The ruling is that the rezoning did violate the comprehensive plan, and that the building did not need a specially brokered deal to protect it, given the city’s strong historic-preservation ordinance. The city is planning to appeal that ruling to the Maine Supreme Court.

*Federated’s Midtown project*
The city issues the Bayside Vision, calling for more housing and larger, taller buildings in the area, including the former railyard in the center of the neighborhood. The plan also recognizes a related need for a city-funded parking garage.
July 2011 The city agrees to sell 3.25 acres, the former railyard, to the Federated Companies for $2.3 million, with an agreement that any development would include a parking garage paid for in part with $9 million in federal money passed through the city.
Fall 2012 Federated unveils a $150-million plan to build 675 apartments in four 15-story towers, plus two parking garages with more than 1000 spaces, and more than 90,000 square feet of retail space.
Fall 2013 After nearly a year of hearings before the Planning Board and City Council, including ordinance changes allowing buildings to be as tall as 165 feet throughout the parcel, public opposition arose (see “Curb Appeal,” by Deirdre Fulton, November 22, 2013).
January 2014  The Planning Board approves the project. Two members of the board, Jack Soley and Bill Hall, say they don’t like aspects of it, but vote in favor because it meets the city’s ordinance requirements.
February 2014 Keep Portland Livable sues the city, saying the process did not properly respect the city’s own planning documents.

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