Planning Board to again take up Munjoy Hill housing plan

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PORTLAND — Developers of the 24 St. Lawrence St. home that has been a focal point of Munjoy Hill redevelopment are bringing revised plans to tonight’s Planning Board workshop.

But a preview of the revisions at a June 21 neighborhood meeting left neighbors less than satisfied.

“It is still too damn big,” Carol Stillwell said as the presentation by Will Savage of Acorn Engineering and Mark Chaloupecky of Port City Architecture concluded at The Root Cellar on Washington Avenue.

Savage and Chaloupecky brought new plans for a five-unit condominium complex Walter and Kelly Williams hope to build after tearing down the vintage-1860 home they have lived in since 2004.

This was the second Planning Board workshop on redeveloping 24 St. Lawrence St., with the first held March 27. Last fall, the plans for redevelopment were cited as an example of how development has changed the fabric of Munjoy Hill while driving out people who can’t afford to live there.

Eventually, demolitions in the neighborhood were banned for 180 days while new zoning was crafted. Because the Williamses had filed their site plan application before the Dec. 4, 2017, moratorium date, they were not subject to the ban or new zoning standards. 

The Williamses plan to live in one of the new condos and have said the redevelopment is the viable option over renovating the home.

The couple did not attend the meeting and declined comment Monday about the new plans.

The revised plans reduce the building by one story, shift the entrance to parking to the left side of the building, and eliminate the need for two stairwells. The new design also places the entrance in the center of the building.

“We are trying to respond to the rhythm of the street,” Savage said.

The new plans still call for six parking spaces below the building, with two units on the first and second floors and a single unit on the third. The single unit would also feature access to a rooftop deck.

The new structure would cover almost 60 percent of the 4,700-square-foot site, with condos that are about 1,000 square feet. The building would be 38 feet high where zoning allows 45 feet, but the measurement did not include the rooftop deck.

The reduction in scale has also pulled the building back from property lines, but Stillwell noted the planned decks coming off the sides toward the rear of the building would still put the building within 5 feet of her home at 20 St. Lawrence St.

While wondering how she would be able to do any maintenance on the side of her home, Stillwell also said the decks would be intrusive and possibly a nuisance if condo owners used them late at night.

The practical aspects of construction also worried Stillwell and neighbors Maggy Wolf and Michael Petit. Wolf and her mother live next to the Williamses on the uphill side at 28 St. Lawrence St.

Petit lives behind the home on Waterville Street on a property divided by a stone retaining wall.

“If construction is inevitable, this is better than what they started with,” he said. “It is incrementally better, but I am not persuaded the project should go forward.”

Petit worries the construction could damage the retaining wall , even as Savage and Chaloupecky said a temporary wall has to be built between the new construction and existing wall.

Petit’s property also sits below the Williamses’, given the topography of the neighborhood. The stability of the retaining wall is critical.

“I don’t want something that has to be fixed,” he said, adding his tenants have a clause in their lease allowing them to move out if construction noise is too disruptive.

Neighbors also worried about adjacent structural damage that could occur from digging to build the parking garage, but Chaloupecky said the original plans called for them to dig even deeper.

The scope of the project still concerned Wolf.

“I have green space and sky now, I will have a wall there,” she said of the new construction.

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

The Portland Planning Board on June 26 held a second workshop on plans to tear down this home at 24 St. Lawrence St. and replace it with a four-story condominium project.

Neighbors of the planned redevelopment of 24 St. Lawrence St., top center, worry both about the stability of retaining walls below and beside the building, and how close condominium decks would be to the home at right.

Revised plans for a four-story condominium project with parking below would decrease the height of the building and increase street frontage, but neighbors on June 21 said the project is still too big.

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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.