Developer may scale down proposed Munjoy Hill condos in Portland

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PORTLAND — Although he calls himself an intermediary in the process, developer Bernie Saulnier on Monday said he is ready for more discussion about a proposed Sheridan Street condominium project.

“I’m going to make a stab at scaling the building down,” Saulnier said.

The 34-unit development at 153-165 Sheridan St. is actually being proposed by Quincy, Massachusetts-based Vazza Real Estate Group, he added. Saulnier said he is serving as a go-between to introduce the plans and developers to city officials and Munjoy Hill residents.

“I’m making connections for other people. The big-money guys are going to be the Vazza group,” he said, although he could become a partner in the project.

No matter who is behind the proposal to build a six-story condominium on land now owned by The McCartney Family LLC of Westbrook, city officials and neighbors, including Mayor Ethan Strimling and Councilor Belinda Ray, have said the project should not be allowed to encroach on the panoramic view from Sumner Park above Sheridan Street. 

“I was clear I will not support blocking the view in any way, shape, or form,” Strimling said Aug. 24, a day after he attended a Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization meeting where Saulnier and attorney Patrick Venne met with residents.

No plans have been filed with the city, and MHNO President Jay Norris said Monday the group has not scheduled another meeting with Saulnier to discuss a revision.

“We are kind of letting them come to us,” Norris said.

Norris said he is optimistic a resolution can be reached that will keep the views at Sumner Park, but is clear on what it will take.

“This comes to a story or story-and-a-half that needs to be shaved off to at least preserve the views,” Norris said.

Saulnier and Venne, who has also worked with Miami-based Federated Cos. on the Midtown mixed-use project on Somerset Street in Bayside, said they are certain city zoning laws allow a building height that could block the view from the park across Back Cove. Within the R-6 zone, building heights are capped at 45 feet, but the measurement is calculated using a median height drawn from the elevation of the four corners of the property.

With the sharp ascent from Sheridan Street to the rear of the properties, which are a combined 0.45 acres, a six-story building with parking at the bottom could be permitted.

Saulnier on Monday said the developers would also consider building decks behind or beside the condominiums to preserve the views.

Norris reiterated he has found the ongoing process constructive, but was clear about what is suitable to neighbors.

“This is blocking the view of a centuries-old treasure,” he said. “If this goes forward, the organization will use its time and resources to push back against this.”

Saulnier said initial plans for Planning Board review could be filed in three weeks. 

While he has not previously been part of any Portland projects, Saulnier has been building in Wells, Saco and Old Orchard Beach. Most recently, he developed housing near Dunegrass Golf Club in Old Orchard Beach.

The Legends Cove and Wild Dunes Way subdivisions have had at least 30 liens filed against them by contractors, companies and the town of Old Orchard Beach in the last two years.

Some liens were for amounts as small as $90, and at least 25 liens, including for Old Orchard Beach property taxes, have been discharged. Open liens remain, including $100,000 claimed by Sabbatus-based Locbid Construction for work on two homes.

Locbid attorney David Herzer said Aug. 26 that the parties involved are negotiating the debt.

Saulnier said liens are not uncommon; they ensure contractors or other businesses will be paid for their work in case of unforeseen circumstances.

In December 2015, Saulnier was ordered by York County Superior Court in Alfred to pay more than $373,000 to Waltham, Massachusetts-based Turner Acquisitions and its affiliate, Renco Management.

Saulnier defaulted on three promissory notes totaling $225,000 dating to 2011 and 2012. He said he continues to work with those companies on larger developments in Massachusetts and used some Maine properties as “extra collateral.”

Overall, he said the Old Orchard Beach subdivisions are in good financial health and almost sold out.

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

The developer who introduced plans for condominiums on Sheridan Street in Portland said he will make a new attempt to keep the project from blocking the view from Sumner Park off North Street.

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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.