Portland gets $200K in development help

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PORTLAND — At Coffee by Design on Diamond Street on March 11, Mayor Michael Brennan recalled his first impressions of East Bayside.

“Thirty-eight years ago, no one wanted to develop in East Bayside, and very few people lived here,” Brennan said as he commented on a $200,000 grant, recently awarded by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, that will be used for neighborhood development.

Brennan’s recollection of digging a community garden long ago in nearby Kennedy Park became a metaphor for the potential he now sees taking root in the neighborhood, and how the Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Grant will help.

According to the EPA, “Brownfields are real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

The grant, awarded through the Greater Portland Council of Governments, will fund a wider assessment of soil contamination in the neighborhood extending from Franklin and Fox streets, and Marginal Way to the base of Munjoy Hill.

“Given that much of East Bayside was built on contaminated fill, almost any redevelopment will trigger environmental due diligence that can be supported through the Brownfields program,” GPCOG Executive Director Neal Allen Jr. said as the grant was announced at Coffee by Design.

Beyond the determination of what composes the contaminated fill and how it may need to be remediated, the grant will fund a neighborhood planning effort beginning in May and extending as long as two years.

City Planning & Urban Development Director Jeff Levine said that prior studies have exposed conditions and hazards that may be in the area, long used for industrial purposes.

“The baseline work is done,” he said. “It is important to develop a plan for the vision.”

Brennan called Coffee by Design a fitting spot to announce the grant because it opened in East Bayside a year ago. He also noted that neighborhood businesses such as Redfern Properties, Urban Farm Fermentory, Running with Scissors, East Bayside Studios and Ten Ten Pie will be part of the planning process.

Nonprofits and agencies that will participate include the Root Cellar, East Bayside Neighborhood Organization, Portland Housing Authority and Avesta Housing. The plan is to hold interviews, roundtable discussions and other gatherings to prioritize goals and form action groups that will develop recommendations.

Light industrial and food-and-beverage businesses have already opened along Fox and Anderson streets in the last couple of years, and the neighborhood is also home to the Maine Muslim Community Center, which opened in 2005.

Redfern Properties principal Jonathan Culley is planning to build a four-story, mixed-use building with 53 housing units on the current site of 3Gs Tire and Auto Service.

The plans were reviewed in a March 10 Planning Board workshop. The project cost is an estimated $6.5 million, part of an anticipated $45 million in public and private investment in the neighborhood over the next two years.

Portland was one of 20 cities to receive the grants. New Bedford and Lawrence, Massachusetts; Pittsburg, Kansas; and Huntington, West Virginia, were among other recipients.

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

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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.