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'Affordable,' artist-oriented apartment building planned for Oak Street in Portland

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'Affordable,' artist-oriented apartment building planned for Oak Street in Portland

PORTLAND — An affordable housing developer is planning to build a 37-unit apartment building in the Arts District, and is targeting artists for tenants.

Grey Payne, development officer for Avesta Housing, said the agency could begin the city approval process as soon as next month. The proposal needs Historic Preservation and Planning Board approval.

The 37 efficiency units will be about 420 square feet each, and cost between $500 and $750 a month in rent. The building would be four stories.

"We're targeting this toward people who make in the $20,000 to $30,000 range," Payne said. He said Avesta hopes the location and price will attract artists, and said there was a strong interest.

"We've been talking with the Portland Arts and Community Alliance," Payne said, to gather input on design ideas that would be favorable for artists. "Neighbors want to see that continue to be a flourishing area for arts."

Payne said the first floor of the building will include common areas, with bicycle storage and maybe a gallery for residents to display their art.

The property is at 72 Oak Street, a parking lot behind the restaurant Five Fifty Five. It is owned by Kerry Anderson.

In 2007, Anderson gained approval from the Planning Board to build Oak Street Live Work Lofts on the lot, but the project never came to fruition.

In 2008, Avesta responded to a request for proposals from the city to build efficiency apartments. The city gave Avesta about $380,000 from the Housing Replacement Fund to build efficiencies on Oak Street. About a year ago, Avesta secured low-income housing tax credits from the Maine Housing Authority and about $3.7 million in funding from the housing authority's green affordable housing bond.

Avesta is required to build the Oak Street apartment building to state green standards. The city also requires Avesta to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver standards.

"It's going to be a very green building," Payne said, with a total project cost of about $5.9 million.

Payne said he expects there will be some debate in the community and among planners about parking requirements.

City zoning regulations require developers to provide one parking spot per apartment unit, although the Planning Board has the right to waive that requirement. Payne said some community members Avesta has spoken with want to see the project provide no parking, and instead encourage the use of bicycles and public transportation.

"(Other) folks want enough parking so parking does not become more difficult in that area," Payne said.

He said Avesta hopes to secure city approvals and break ground for the project by late fall.

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