Developers seek OK for Stevens Avenue project in Portland

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PORTLAND — Developers are hoping to get the go-ahead Tuesday for a project planned around the former St. Joseph’s Convent on Stevens Avenue.

“We hope to get approval,” Kevin Bunker said in a Jan. 5 email. “At (a) workshop there was very little comment and the consensus seemed to be that it was ready to go.”

Bunker and his partner, Matt Teare, are seeking approval for the first phase of new construction on 19 acres at 605 Stevens Ave. Conversion of the convent into 88 housing units has already started.

The partners bought the land and convent, known as The Motherhouse, from Rhode Island-based St. Joseph’s Convent and Hospital last year, according to city tax records.

The application to the city is for a four-story building with 21 market-rate units for people 55 and older. It is the first phase of plans to build 161 units on land that includes fields now leased by the Maine Girls’ Academy, formerly Catherine McAuley High School.

There could be as many as five phases of new construction that will eventually encompass about half of the athletic fields.

The first story of the new building would be used for vehicle parking; the upper three floors would contain two-bedroom apartments, according to plans. The area is adjacent to Mayor Baxter Woods, a 33-acre preserve between Stevens and Forest avenues.

The site is Lot 4 in a master plan approved by the Planning Board in 2016. The site plan was also reviewed in a Planning Board workshop Oct. 24, 2017.

Bunker said he hopes to lease the housing by early autumn. Of the 88 units, 66 will be priced as affordable housing, available to people earning 50 to 60 percent of the area median income, or $27,000 to $37,000 for single or two-income earners, according to the Maine State Housing Authority.

In The Motherhouse, 68 of 88 units will be efficiencies; the remainder will have one bedroom.

The Motherhouse has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which has helped Bunker use historic tax credits to fund the conversion to housing. Last spring, the City Council approved allocating $201,000 in U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development grants for the project, after providing $426,000 in HUD grants in 2015.

In order to move ahead with new construction plans, the city also revised zoning on the land in June 2015 from R-5 to R-5A, which allows higher population density.

Neighbors first fought the rezoning in 2015, concerned then about plans for as many as 249 new units to be built along with The Motherhouse conversion. Acourt fight that reached the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in November 2016. 

Bunker and Teare eventually reduced the number of new units to 161, but two neighbors continued their opposition by taking the city to court for improperly approving the new zoning.

The complaint was rejected in Cumberland County Superior Court, and that decision was unanimously upheld by state’s high court in December 2016.

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

Conversion of the former St. Josephs’ convent in Portland into 88 housing units is underway; developers hope to begin leasing them in early autumn.

Developers hope a four-story, 21-unit housing plan next to the former St. Joseph’s convent on Stevens Avenue in Portland will get Planning Board approval Jan. 9.

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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.