Portland fires back at lawsuit over $150M Midtown project

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PORTLAND — The city on Friday argued the Planning Board took care to follow the letter of the law when it granted approval for the first phase of what will ultimately be a four-tower, $150 million development in the Bayside neighborhood.

The city statement, released by Deputy City Manager Shelia Hill-Christian, came in response to a lawsuit filed earlier in the week in part by members of the group Keep Portland Livable, which opposes the so-called Midtown project.

The opposition group hopes to argue in superior court that the project fails to comply with local and state guidelines, and that the Planning Board overstepped its bounds by accepting an application opponents said was missing, among other things, a three-dimensional model of the project.

The Midtown complex bucks city comprehensive plan guidelines seeking “a small-town feel” and neighborhood blocks about half the size of those created by the project, among other things, the opponents further argue.

But in their first public response to the complaint, city officials countered that they “took every care to ensure that the project review was compliant with the city’s land use ordinance and comprehensive plan.”

“In fact, changes were made to the project as part of the review to ensure that compatibility,” Hill-Christian said. “Some of those changes include reconfiguration of Somerset Street to address flooding concerns as well as urban design issues raised by the current elevation; additional space for the Bayside Trail at the Elm Street end through pulling back a building; and changes to the Bayside Trail side of the building. The design of the buildings and site plan improved considerably during the review process.”

The opponents also blasted the city for poor record-keeping during the project’s approval process, a criticism the city rebutted Friday, saying that although an equipment malfunction erased recordings of several public hearings, those recordings were never legally required.

Hill-Christian added that the city kept written records of the hearings and that it even created a web page to provide the public access to the project’s heavy documentation.

A rendering of the first phase of the proposed Midtown complex in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, showing the first of four apartment towers, right, along Somerset Street.