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Portland council approves housing for former Adams School property

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Portland council approves housing for former Adams School property

PORTLAND — Sixteen units of affordable housing could be under construction in less than a year at the former Marada Adams School on Munjoy Hill.

The City Council Monday night approved selling about half of the 1.5-acre property to Avesta Housing for $250,000. The deal has been nearly two years in the making, and was scaled back significantly in the past year due to limited funding options and a change in housing demand in the city, according to the developer.

The $5.5 million project is getting $1.7 million in federal stimulus funds.

The so-called Beckett Green proposal now includes 16 two- and three-bedroom condominiums in two buildings along Vesper Street, between Moody and Wilson streets. The original project proposed 40 units on all 1.5 acres.

Although Avesta is not purchasing the rest of the property at this point, it has agreed to demolish the entire school, add a pedestrian corridor connecting Beckett Street with O'Brion Street and plant grass on the remaining vacant land, except for the existing parking lot on Moody Street. That lot will be used for snowstorm parking.

The units will sell for about $215,000 for a two-bedroom and $260,000 for a three-bedroom. Buyers must meet income requirements of at or below 120 percent of the area median income. That's about $65,000 for a family of two and $82,000 for a family of four.

A concern among neighbors of the former school was the existing playground on Wilson Street. Although proposed to stay in its current location for much of the process, the City Council recently decided to move the playground to within the pedestrian corridor.

"It's like kids playing in the middle of a hallway," Beckett Street resident Eric Stark said.

Word of the decision caused a flurry of e-mail messages to councilors and city staff last weekend. The e-mails accused the city of last-minute twists and changes to the plan and of not notifying the public of meetings. One woman accused District 1 Councilor Kevin Donoghue of having a conflict of interest in his support for the decision, and said the project will endanger the safety of her child and her ability to rent apartments.

Donoghue proposed an amendment at the meeting Monday to return the playground to its current spot and assure that it will remain open during demolition and construction. The amendment was supported unanimously; Councilor John Anton recused himself.

Dana Totman, president of Avesta, said it was the developer's preference that the playground remain in its original location.

A few residents also told the council Monday that they are concerned the parking proposed for the project – one space per unit – is not adequate and would exacerbate the existing on-street parking shortage in the neighborhood.

"There is no parking there now," Vesper Street resident Tim Flanagan said. "I'm going to have to drive around for 15 or 20 minutes tonight to find parking."

Avesta will spend approximately $150,000 to demolish the existing building and make site improvements. The open space, including the corridor, will be turned over to the city. Avesta has plans for a second phase that would include building additional housing along Munjoy Street.

The council unanimously approved the sale agreement. The project now has to go to the Planning Board for site plan approval. Avesta hopes to demolish the school this winter, and begin construction in early 2011.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net