Avesta Housing readies West End proposal for South Portland planners

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A new housing, retail and community center project on the city’s West End is one step closer to happening.

Avesta Housing officials met with about 16 community members Nov. 8 in the Brick Hill Heights’ community room, 80 Brickhill Ave., to discuss plans for a five-story building at 586-600 Westbrook St. that will include low-income and market-rate housing.

On Nov. 6 a City Council workshop was also held on the proposed project. The next step will be going before the Planning Board by the beginning of December to meet a deadline for Maine State Housing Authority paperwork to be submitted by Feb. 8, 2018.

Ferman Boswell, a Brick Hill Heights resident, said neighborhood residents have become discouraged about improvements that have been discussed but never happen.

“To me, this (the West End) is the dumping ground of South Portland,” Boswell said. “Nothing ever happens so we lose hope. Everything happens on the other side of Broadway.”

Boswell said he supports the project and hopes this time it will be different.

“It looks good, sounds good, let’s make it happen,” he said.

Councilor Brad Fox called it the “most important project that has ever happened in my neighborhood. … We need to support it.”

The new West End Neighborhood Master Plan, which was adopted by the Council in August, calls for creating a neighborhood center and for redeveloping “the triangle” – a strip of land on Westbrook Street between Brick Hill and Redbank – into a more vibrant neighborhood center with community gathering spaces and streetscape improvements.

As part of the plan, a mixed-use building is being proposed by Avesta Housing and Quang Nguyen, owner of Le Variety. It would house Le Variety and the Neighborhood Resource Hub. In June, the city approved using $86,000 from its Revolving Loan Fund Program for Nguyen to purchase a vacant quarter-acre lot at 600 Westbrook St., next to his store at 586 Westbrook St.

Avesta Housing is working with Kaplan Thompson Architects in Portland to come up with a design.

Architect Jesse Thompson said the convenience store will take up about 4,000 square feet. The Hub will take up about 750 feet on the first floor, and a lobby/community room of about the same size and bathrooms will take up the remaining space on the first floor.

The apartments would be on the upper four floors. Thompson said the 64 units would include studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom units, with up to half of the two- and three-bedroom units earmarked for families with children.

Tyler Norad, development officer at Avesta Housing, said about 20 percent of the apartments would be offered on the lower end of market rate. Around 80 percent would be low-income apartments for residents who earn 50-60 percent of the area median income established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Merrie Allen, with Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, an Opportunity Alliance program that runs The Hub, said it’s “outstanding” that permanent space is being considered for The Hub.

“I’m excited that the city is committed to keeping The Hub central and visible,” Allen said. “It’s an exciting plan, exciting for the neighborhood.”

Avesta Housing is applying for federally funded low-income housing tax credits through the Maine State Housing Authority. It plans to submit an application for the program, but need to work out details with the city.

According to the agenda, the city pays $300 per month for The Hub’s land lease. A 15-year term for the new lease would be necessary to align with the project’s tax credit funding application. The new lease would be $937.50 per month.

Avesta Housing has developed three lease scenarios for the city to consider, including the monthly fixed-price lease. The other two options include a discounted lease in exchange for a city loan or a free lease in exchange for a city loan.

Another matter the city must decide is a potential land easement or land transfer, which is needed because a boundary survey revealed that the city’s right-of-way infringes on the property. Avesta is requesting that the city transfer 0.07 acres (just over 3,000 square feet,) from the city to Avesta or grant an easement.

“We need to have to have legal proof that we have the legal right to build there,” Norad told the council.

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Architect Jesse Thompson, left, on Wednesday, Nov. 8, discusses plans for the five-story building at 586-600 Westbrook St., South Portland, that will include low-income and market-rate housing. On the right is Matthew Peters, vice president of real estate services at Avesta Housing.