Developer plans to demolish former African immigrant church in Portland for condos

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PORTLAND — In the latest project in what has been a development rush on Munjoy Hill, developers are hoping to demolish a former African immigrant church and replace it with condominiums.

The city’s Planning Board unanimously granted the project conditional site plan and subdivision approvals at its Tuesday night meeting.

The Munjoy Hill neighborhood has become a recent hot spot for new projects. Other developers received city approvals last month to build multi-unit residential projects at 152 Sheridan St. and 118 Congress St., the latter of which will replace a one-story former grocery store building with a four-story structure featuring street-level retail frontage.

This past summer, Avesta Housing opened a 16-unit townhouse campus on the hill’s former Adams School property, and Redfern Properties is planning to build 29 luxury condominiums as part of a project on Walnut Street. An ambitious renovation drive is also underway for the historic St. Lawrence Arts Center, a former church.

The newest addition to the surge is proposed for a 0.13-acre lot at 33-35 Lafayette St., where a 1951 church building now stands.

“The most recent congregation was the International Christian Fellowship,” developer Peter Bass, of Random Orbit, wrote in his application to the city Planning Department. “This is an African immigrant congregation with a wonderful success story of outgrowing the church and finding a new bigger space that suits their growing programming.”

The proposed Marquis Lofts building will have indoor parking on the ground floor and three additional stories that house a total of six 900-square-foot loft condominiums.

Bass described the units as being priced “well below other offerings that are currently being planned for the East End.”

Unlike early drawings submitted to the city, which depicted a blue exterior to the structure, project representatives told the Planning Board on Tuesday night they plan to use a terra cotta coloring to highlight a clapboard exterior.

Some of the modern stylings, including what appeared to be dark railings and borders, were questioned by area residents in a December neighborhood meeting and Tuesday night’s Planning Board meeting.

“The black lines, to me, accentuate the squareness to me,” Peggy Johnson, who said she lives across the street, told the planners. “The No. 33 on the front, it looks a little like a bank building to me.”

But Jack Soley joined fellow board member Bill Hall in commending the developers on the new color scheme and other style adjustments made that “break up the building elements into more of a human scale.”

“This building has all sorts of visual interest compared to the last time around,” Soley said.

“I think the scale of the building is very appropriate for this site, and the articulation is very nice,” agreed fellow board member Carol Morrissette.

Sidebar Elements

Developers hope to construct this condominium building, depicted in an early rendering by Bild Architecture, where an African immigrant church once stood on Munjoy Hill in Portland. Developers have since swapped out the blue color scheme with a terra cotta coloring.