Neighborhood concerns send Reed School plans 'back to the drawing board'

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PORTLAND — Neighbors of the vacant Thomas B. Reed School in the Riverton neighborhood said they have concerns about two plans being proposed for the building’s redevelopment.

And, because of those concerns, officials involved with the redevelopment of the parcel may have to “go back to the drawing board,” City Councilor David Brenerman said.

Brenerman, who co-chaired the former Reed School Reuse Task Force, said neighbors of the school at 28 Homestead Ave. have reservations about the size of the two proposals being contemplated.

The city received two sets of qualifications from interested developers. One is a collaboration between Avesta Housing andDevelopers Collaborative LLC. The other is from Community Housing of Maine.

Brenerman said the proposal from Avesta and Developers Collaborative called for 45 units of housing, while Community Housing’s proposal called for 46. He said one unit per 3,000 square feet is permitted in the zone, which would mean 36 units. Since both developers are proposing affordable housing for seniors, they were allowed a 25 percent density bonus, allowing them more units.

Brenerman said the developers proposed “the largest number” of units they could.

“I agreed those proposals were probably too large, and we would go back and discuss this with staff at the city and try to figure out a different approach that might be more acceptable,” Brenerman said.

The neighborhood is in the R3 zone, but the task force recommended a change to R5, because R3 does not allow multi-family housing. The city, which took over the school in July 2014, has no interest in retaining ownership.

Elise Scala, who lives on nearby Lexington Avenue, said there is a belief among neighbors that the number of units is  far too large.

She said there are concerns that the proposals call for “sizable additions” to the building, which would impact the historical structure, and the proposals would require serious planning to accommodate parking. Scala also said how the open space gets used is a concern, because the neighbors want the space to be preserved for community use.

Scala said personally, she would like to see proposals with much lower density numbers, perhaps in the low 20s.

“I want the nature of the neighborhood and the building respected,” she said.

The original school, a 34,000-square-foot building on 2.5 acres, was built in the 1920s. Additions were build over several decades.

Christine Grimando, the city’s senior planner, said normally the next step would have been sending out requests for proposals. She said because of the neighborhood concerns, that process has been slowed down.

“We haven’t yet digested that information, so I’m not yet sure how long that pause will be,” Grimando said.

Grimando said when the proposals came in with high densities, she knew they were likely to cause concern for the residents.

“I think it was fair to assume there would be some concern over that,” she said.

Scala said she and other residents are also “concerned about the process.” She said there were expectations about how the project would look, and one drawing by Avesta dated back to 2013, which predates any conversations.

Additionally, she said the city had an interest in “affordable” housing, while the neighborhood had been discussing “workforce” housing.

“The neighbors were kind of stunned by the proposals,” Scala said.

Brenerman said the plan now is “to go back to the drawing board” and talk with staff about the approach, as well as continue conversations with neighbors and developers to see “if this can be done on a much smaller basis and still be viable for (the developers).”

“The thing I don’t want to do is to force a project on the neighborhood that they don’t want,” Brenerman said.

Grimando said there is no firm schedule going forward, and planners will now try to figure out how to incorporate the feedback they’ve gotten into the plans. 

Additionally, the Planning Board was slated to discuss the R3-to-R5 zoning change for the school this month, but that discussion has been postponed. Brenerman said planners now need to find what can be done within the R5 zone that’s more acceptable to the neighbors, “or maybe we have to do this a different way.”

“I would say we’re on hold with the Planning Board for the R5 zone until we can figure out how to move ahead,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Neighbors have expressed concerns over the two proposals Portland has received for possible reuse of the vacant Thomas B. Reed School at 28 Homestead Ave.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or