Master plan for Portland Elks property heads to Planning Board

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PORTLAND — Neighbors and developers of 1945 Congress St. will meet again Thursday, days before the master development plan is presented at a Planning Board workshop.

On Monday, Josh Benthien, a principal of Northland Enterprises, expressed optimism the master plan to construct two office buildings on the site of Elks Lodge No. 188 will pass muster with neighbors.

“I hope when it goes in front of Planning Board, there is less surprise or feeling we are trying to force something through,” Benthien said.

The May 5 meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at Stroudwater Baptist Church, 1729 Congress St. The City Hall Planning Board workshop on Tuesday, May 10, begins at 4:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, David Silk, a resident of the Stroudwater neighborhood bordering the property and a board member of the Stroudwater Village Association, added his own optimism.

“As long as (developers) continue to listen and are somewhat flexible, I see a positive outcome,” Silk, a former Planning Board member, said.

Benthien and engineers from city-based Pinkham & Greer Civil Engineers will present three concepts for workshop review. Plans call for a 25,300-square-foot office building, and a 15,000-square-foot medical office building.

The office building will become headquarters for Clark Insurance. Dr. Michael Bedecs will be a tenant in the medical offices. Plans also call for tearing down 10,000 square feet of the Elks Lodge.

Northland also has to close on the $1.25 million purchase of the property. Benthien said he expects to finalize the sale and approach the Planning Board with specific site plans for review in late or early fall.

The zoning change process allowing for development was contentious. Neighbors asked the city to study the Stroudwater area on the whole before granting piecemeal zoning changes and advocated using the seven acres of Elks’ land for housing.

The zoning changes was approved by City Councilors Jan. 20, with Councilors Jill Duson, Nick Mavodones Jr. and Belinda Ray opposed.

“I’d give a lot of credit to the neighbors. It was a bitter pill to swallow,” Silk said. “But I think they are moving on and trying to make the best of the situation.”

The master plan workshops will focus on the basics of the plans and how to create a “campus” setting that also minimizes physical and visual effects on abutters. The medical office building has been shifted back from Congress Street frontage and will be buffered by vegetation to help conceal it from abutting properties.

Benthien said he will also seek a waiver in order to install lower light poles in the parking lots. Silk said landscaping and trails on the property are also key development details.

“From a planning perspective, I don’t see any of those to be deal killers at all,” Silk said.

Silk and Benthien said Mayor Ethan Strimling also helped bring the parties together by sitting down with them.

“We are open to whatever the Planning Board and neighbors want,” Benthien said.

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

Initial development plans for two office buildings at 1945 Congress St., seen last fall, will be reviewed at a neighborhood meeting Thursday, May 5 and by the Planning Board on May 10.

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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.