Portland council again OKs West End housing TIF

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PORTLAND — City councilors Monday reaffirmed their decision to grant tax breaks for an Avesta Housing project at 17 Carleton St.

Councilors also authorized Bangor-based Waterfront Concerts to proceed with scheduling concerts for the Maine State Pier next summer, while promising to look at ways to control concert noise.

In a meeting that lasted 90 minutes, the City Council also postponed votes on a two-party agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation for work on Forest Avenue and on amending the city policy on how Community Development Block Grants will be distributed.

The tax increment finance zone for Avesta was approved Aug. 3 by a 7-2 vote, with Councilors Jon Hinck and Justin Costa opposed. The council approved a 22-year TIF that would return $722,000 in increased property valuations for the proposed 37-unit housing development.

But the council voted without a required third-party review of the need for the TIF, which was obtained Aug. 24. After 20 minutes of public comment Monday on the TIF and about 15 minutes of council discussion, the vote remained unchanged, with Hinck and Costa still opposed.

Continued public opposition to granting the TIF focused on Avesta’s financial strength, the true purpose of TIFs, and the quality of the consultant analysis from from Sean Carpenter of Global Deal Funding.

“When TIFs first started, the developer got a benefit to do the project, but the benefit was in a public way,” Holm Avenue resident Robert Hains said. “(Avesta) needs a TIF giveaway to get other giveaways; it boggles the mind.”

By securing the TIF, Avesta can gain points on its application to the state for low-income housing credits it can sell to investors to finance construction costs for the project, which will have 12 efficiency units, 23 one-bedroom units and two two-bedroom residences.

West Street resident John Penrose said Carpenter was unqualified to assess Avesta’s needs and likely had a conflict of interest because of other ventures in which he participates.

“All he did was write a letter that contains no analysis,” Penrose said.

Hinck agreed with the criticisms.

“In this particular project, the public benefit is narrow,” he said. “There are many other projects that would fit what we would classically apply a TIF to, and has been stated in testimony, they do not apply here.”

Councilor Kevin Donoghue disagreed, saying the focus needs to remain on what the city can do to promote affordable housing.

“It is clearly the right choice, given the choices we have,” he said.

Pier concerts

While City Manager Jon Jennings hinted that future noise controls at the Maine State Pier could include some sort of covering, councilors unanimously allowed Waterfront Concerts to begin preparing next year’s schedule.

Hains and Peaks Island resident Arthur Fink urged councilors to spend more time studying concert noise and complaints.

Andrew Downs, who directs public assembly facilities for the city, said city staff monitor shows from several locations on the pier. He praised Waterfront staff for being responsive to potential violations. 

Alex Gray of Waterfront Concerts said this season was larger than anticipated.

“If you had told me we would do 27 shows, I would have laughed,” he said. “I would not imagine many more (in 2016). I would think it likely we do less.”

The plan on noise controls is still being developed, Jennings said.

Bobinsky on leave

Before the meeting, Jennings said Director of Public Services Mike Bobinsky began a two-month leave of absence on Sept. 17.

Jennings said it was a personnel issue and declined to further discussion.

He said Bob Leeman, the city’s former facilities director and current Cruise Portland Maine executive, will be interim director of public services, while Steve Early will head operations.

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

A rendering of the housing project planned at 17 Carleton St. in Portland by Avesta Housing.

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.