Opponents end campaign against Bay House TIF ahead of Portland City Council vote

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PORTLAND — Leaders of a community group opposed to giving tax breaks to a proposed India Street housing development have resigned themselves to the likely approval of a Tax Increment Financing district for the project.

They said they will not speak in opposition to the proposal at the City Council’s next meeting.

“I think we are pretty much through trying to oppose it in any fashion,” said Hugh Nazor, who has been the public face of the India Street Neighborhood Association through the long run up to the construction of the Bay House project, which has been in the works since 2006. 

Nazor and other neighborhood residents still oppose the TIF, and the scale of the development, which is set to include 94 housing units in two buildings on the site of the former Village Cafe between Newbury, Middle, and Hancock streets.

Bay House developers have asked for a roughly $650,000 TIF district that would include only one of the two buildings. They plan to turn the second building into condominiums, which are not eligible for TIF funding by state law. The building within the TIF district may also be converted from apartments to condos in the future; if that happens within the proposed nine-year TIF period, the agreement would be automatically nullified.

The TIF would be the city’s first for a market-rate housing project – “sort of the tip of the iceberg,” India Street Neighborhood Association President Alison Brown said.

But after years of opposition, the effort seems to have failed, she said.

“I’m not in favor of it,” Brown said, but come the council’s Aug. 6 meeting, where a final decision is expected, “I’m not going to get up and talk about it. I think it’s kind of a given.”

The Bay House TIF was sent to the council with a recommendation from the Housing and Community Development Committee, which voted 3-1 for the TIF at its July 11 meeting.

Councilor Nicholas Mavodones, the committee chairman, said he expects councilors will support the TIF. He said he does not see it as a precedent-setting action, even though another $650,000 TIF district, for a mixed-use project in the same neighborhood is also up for vote at the Aug. 6 meeting.

“I think developers are pretty judicious about asking for TIFs,” Mavodones said. “Developers can always ask. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to get it.”

The second TIF, for the second phase of the project that already created the Hampton Inn on Fore Street, follows city tradition because it includes retail and office space, Nazor said. He is not opposed to that TIF, he said.

Discussion of the two TIFs has led the Housing and Community Development Committee to double its meeting schedule, in order to have time to look at broader policy issues as well as pressing business decisions, Mavodones said.

One of the primary topics will be the city’s TIF policies, he said.

“We will look at TIF policies and making sure they’re as comprehensive as we can,” he said. “We’ve been so busy, we really want to carve out some time to deal with these issues.”

The Aug. 6 City Council meeting will also include a vote on the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, a $16 million financing package that will fund projects around the city in the next year, including design and engineering work to replace Hall School, design and construction of a trail connector along the Fore River Parkway, and $1.3 million worth of sewer separation work.

Andrew Cullen can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or acullen@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @ACullenFore.