More housing sought as Portland land sales move forward

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PORTLAND — City Hall staff will continue negotiations with the bidders for six parcels of Bayside land totaling 4 acres.

The continued work to sell the land came after a July 19 meeting of the City Council Economic Development Committee where Mayor Ethan Strimling and members of the public urged the city to add more housing to the proposed redevelopment mix.

“Think about those people who are laying on the sidewalks,” Cheryl Harkins of Homeless Voices for Justice said during a public hearing that lasted almost an hour.

The hearing was followed by an executive session to provide guidance to city staff on proceeding with negotiations.

The six lots between Kennebec, Brattle, Alder and Portland streets had all been part of the city’s Public Works operations, which has largely been shifted to properties at 212 and 250 Canco Road.

Some of the land and buildings have already been sold and became Bayside Bowl on Alder Street. In 2015, the city sought bids for at 52 Alder St. and 65 Hanover St. to develop affordable housing. The sole response came from Avesta Housing, which offered $1 for the land and sought city funding to clean it.

City Public Works Director Chris Branch estimated it would cost up to $6.5 million to move public works to the Canco Road properties, and city Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said it has long been planned to have proceeds from the sale of Bayside properties fund the shift.

In April, the city commissioned CBRE/The Boulos Co. to market the parcels, without listing specific selling prices. Nine bids were considered; bid prices have not been revealed by city officials.

Nate Stevens, one of the brokers handling the sales, said the properties were marketed for a variety of uses.

“We tried to leave it as wide open as possible to show the greatest interest in the property,” he said of more than 1,000 mailings on the sales and more than 50 “in-depth conversations” about the parcels with potential bidders.

City staff has recommended selling the Public Works offices at 55 Portland St. for continued office use. The Public Works fleet services building at 44 Hanover St. could be sold to the family of attorney Harold Pachios for “future commercial incubator uses,” according to a memo from Mitchell.

Parcel 3 at 56 Parris St. could become 20 units of housing, but potential starting prices of $200,000 were not what is needed, speakers said.

“Anyone who tells you that is affordable housing should be metaphorically slapped upside the head,” Bayside resident Don Marietta said.

Parcel 4 at 82 Hanover St. has drawn interest from Tom Watson of Port Property Management as company office space. If the building is sold to him, Watson would then convert his present Grant Street office into at least 23 housing units.

The remainder of housing plans would come at parcel 6 on 178 Kennebec St., where developer Ross Furman plans at least 50 residential units in a mixed-use space.

Strimling urged the committee, led by Councilor David Brenerman, to consider reopening the RFP process to include more housing, but two longtime Bayside residents supported the city staff recommendations.

Steve Hirshon of the Bayside Neighborhood Association said the neighborhood already has a disproportionate share of affordable and subsidized housing and needs “aspirational homes” and more businesses.

Cumberland Avenue resident Ron Spinella agreed.

“I think staff got it right in terms of diversity of uses,” he said. “We are looking for some stability and for a neighborhood that is just as pleasant as any neighborhood on or off the peninsula.”

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

Portland Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell details the proposals for redevelopment of city-owned land in Bayside at a July 19 meeting.

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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.