Portland board mulls 1st proposal under new Munjoy Hill rules

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PORTLAND — After two workshops with the Historic Preservation Board, a developer hoping to build new housing on Munjoy Hill is optimistic his plans will be approved.

“We are engaging in this because we hope the collaboration will yield a better project,” Tim Wells said Sept. 7, two days after a second alternative design review workshop.

Wells and his partners plan to build 14 apartments and townhouses at the corner of Montreal and Willis streets. To do so, they will have to tear down buildings at 33 and 37 Montreal St.

The plans are the first to be reviewed under the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Conservation District guidelines enacted in June.

The home at 37 Montreal St., because of its history, is classified as “preferably preserved.” As such, there is a stay on its demolition until June 2019, although developers are cleared to tear down other structures on the two properties.

Ultimately, Wells and architects Jesse Thompson and Richard Lo could wait out the year-long stay on razing the single-family home at the corner of Montreal and Wells streets.

But the stay could also be lifted if the Historic Preservation Board determines what replaces the building “meets the historic preservation ordinance’s new construction standards,” according to an Aug. 28 memo from Planning Department staffers Deb Andrews and Caitlin Cameron.

The plans, which call for townhouses facing Willis Street and four floors of single-story homes with parking beneath the building, have drawn objections from neighbors who say it is too large and out of character with the rest of the street.

Revised plans presented Sept. 6 did not change any opinions.

“It is kind of like a cake where the frosting has changed,” Montreal Street resident Carol Connor said during a 30-minute public hearing.

North Street resident Peter Murray said the changes, including altering how the building faces Montreal Street and shifting planned balconies, were not enough.

“It is much too big for where it is,” Murray said.

Wells found more support from the board for the basic concept, even as members said more revisions are needed. Those include changes to building materials at street level and having the roof line better match the street-level descent of Montreal Street toward the Eastern Promenade.

“It is not wildly out of scale, but it is out of scale,” board member John Turk said.

The board also must consider surrounding architecture within two blocks, which Wells noted includes the 14-story Promenade Towers and adjacent MacArthur Gardens apartments.

“It is a very eclectic neighborhood,” he said. “It is the most eclectic part of the neighborhood on Munjoy Hill.”

Wells said plans for the new housing have been three years in the making, and increases in labor and material costs, and the cost of buying the property, mean he has to move forward.

The board does not have to find the alternative design “meets each and every one of the R-6 zone’s design standards,” Andrews noted.

The entire project must also gain Planning Board approval.

An option the Historic Preservation Board also has is to declare 37 Montreal St. a landmark site, although that would require City Council approval.

Wells has chafed at the delay and new regulations.

“We bought under the rules and the rules have changed on us … we are trying to balance what is real-world today,” he said Sept. 8.

Yet he said he remains committed to working with the board.

“It has to be reasonable,” Wells said. “You can’t throw out the context of where we are.”

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

Plans to tear down buildings at 33 and 37 Montreal St. on Munjoy Hill and replace them with 14 units of new housing are now under review by Portland’s Historic Preservation Board.

A revised concept sketch of new development at 33 and 37 Montreal St. was criticized by some neighbors, who find it too large and out of scale for the street.

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.