Developer may scale back proposed Portland condo project

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PORTLAND — Plans for a proposed condominium complex on Sheridan Street will be revised again as city councilors consider a moratorium on developing the land.

Patrick Venne, an attorney working with developer Bernard Saulnier, Tuesday said the new plans could reduce the building height for the 34-unit project to four stories, and eliminate any encroachment on views from adjacent Fort Sumner Park.

On Monday, Nov. 21, the City Council is expected to hold a public hearing and vote on a 60-day moratorium on accepting permit applications or acting on site plans to build on the property at 153-165 Sheridan St.

Saulnier has said he is an intermediary for the Vazza Real Estate Group, based in Quincy, Massachusetts.

No plans or permit applications have been filed with the city. The land, which is partly undeveloped and partly filled by a single family home, is owned by the McCartney Family LLC, based in Westbrook, according to city tax records.

Councilor Belinda Ray proposed the moratorium in order to allow city staff to explore ways to protect public views, either through zoning changes or by allowing the Planning Board further consider the visual impacts on public land during the site planning process.

Venne spoke out against the moratorium during public comment at the Oct. 17 City Council meeting, and said Tuesday he remains opposed.

“With a moratorium comes uncertainty, and with uncertainty comes risk,” Venne said. “We are excited to move this project forward in a timely manner and deliver a quality project to the local market. If that means exploring alternative design options, that’s what we’ll do.”

Last month, Venne circulated plans he said would reduce the visual encroachment on the park to a small corner of the northern view, about 1.25 percent of the total view.

“We continue to believe our most recent design was a reasonable compromise, and a number of the foregoing groups agree with us, but at this time we are prepared to consider even further reductions in density if that’s what it takes to reach consensus,” Venne said.

Fort Sumner Park, which extends from North Street to an overlook above Sheridan Street, is a favored spot for views north and west of the city, especially at sunset.

Saulnier, Venne and a local team of architects have discussed the proposal with the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization at the urging of city staff, including Planning Director Tuck O’Brien.

Opposition to blocking any of the view developed in late August, and has renewed a fight some neighbors originally waged against plans to develop the former Portland Co. site at 58 Fore St.

Petitions with more than 300 signature opposing development plans and urging city officials to protect views were turned in to councilors in September, and neighbors have also asked the city Historic Preservation Board to nominate the park as a protected zone.

Mayor Ethan Strimling and Councilor Belinda Ray have also spoken in opposition to blocking park views.

In a brochure published by Friends of Fort Sumner Park, the city was urged to preserve park views while also repairing the trail from Sheridan Street, adding signs to detail the park’s history and securing placement of the park on the National Register of historic places.

MHNO President Jay Norris on Tuesday he said the latest revision is an example of how th developers want to work with neighbors.

“They deserve a lot of credit; so far they have been complete gentlemen,” he said.

Norris said he is wary of a moratorium, and added the process has put the question of view protection back to its starting point.

“We are right back where we started from in terms of fighting developers,” he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Visitors enjoy the Oct. 6 sunset at Fort Sumner Park. On Nov. 17, the City Council will consider a moratorium on adjacent construction in order to find ways to preserve park views of Portland.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.