Portland developer sees promise in West End parking lot

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

PORTLAND — More affordable housing could be coming to the West End, and a neighborhood resident wants to provide it.

“For me, it is much more than a housing development,” Todd Alexander said May 15. “It is an opportunity to build affordable housing and tackle some neighborhood issues we are dealing with.”

Alexander plans to respond to a soon-to-be-issued request for proposals for the city-owned, 0.2-acre parking lot at 157 Brackett St., across from Reiche Elementary School.

Alexander, the father of three daughters at Reiche, is also a vice president at Renewal Housing, a city-based company that develops affordable housing throughout the country.

The proposal Alexander intends to submit will be the first work Renewal has done in Maine, he said, and is a sign of his commitment to the neighborhood that has been his home for 15 years.

“I literally graduated from Cornell and moved to the West End because I wanted to live here. I didn’t have a job,” he said. “I love urban neighborhoods and the diversity, diversity on terms of architecture, people and land uses.”

The City Council Housing and Community Development Committee, chaired by Councilor Kevin Donoghue, approved issuing the RFP at its May 13 meeting. Alexander supported the idea in an email to the committee, noting he has an agreement in place to buy a building at 1 Joy Place that adjoins the parking lot.

Tyler Norod, a city housing planner, said May 15 the revised RFP will encourage the lot developer to price at least 30 percent of the housing units for people earning no more than 120 percent of the area median income, or $90,000 annually.

Alexander said he can easily meet that and expects at least half of what could be 23 units for sale to meet those standards. The 30 percent of affordable units in the RFP would require a 30-year deed restriction to meet the area median income requirements.

His plans call for sale, not rental units, filling a niche on the city peninsula, Alexander said.

“What we are trying to do is rarely done, the affordable for sale. It is always the stuff that is hardest to build and finance,” he said.

The 24-space parking lot is now used by staff at Reiche and the public, and applicants must also show how they would keep 24 spaces available above and beyond any needed development parking. Alexander said he would use the 0.1-acre Joy Place property for parking.

He will also provide a crosswalk to Reiche. The city installed two temporary crosswalks on Brackett Street last fall, with more visible signs, small ramps from the curbs and pavement striping. Neither crosswalk fared well through the winter, and the city has allocated $40,000 for improvements.

The long block between Pine and Spring streets has always been a challenge in terms of pedestrian safety, Alexander said.

“People start to accelerate exactly at the point you should slow down,” he said.

Alexander said he views the housing project as a way to help the neighborhood, although his view is not entirely sentimental.

“We are not trying to be philanthropic,” he said. “The numbers have to work, but I definitely see a plan where we can improve a lot of things and deliver a project that works.”

Should he obtain the property, any project will require city Planning Board approval, and Alexander said other solutions will be a neighborhood collaboration.

“I don’t know what the exact recipe is, but I know we can bring the financing to the project to pay for some of those public improvements,” he said. “Our job is to bring the financing; (you) help me figure out what the solutions are.”

The RFP deadline is July 9. Questions about it must be submitted in writing in person or by mail to the Purchasing Office, Room 103, City Hall, 389 Congress St., Portland, Maine 04101, by fax at 874-8652 or by email at mff@portlandmaine.gov.

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

Sidebar Elements

Portland will seek proposals to convert this parking lot at 157 Brackett St. to affordable housing. The request has drawn the interest of developer Todd Alexander, who has an option to buy the property at left.

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.