Portland hearing, vote on Midtown project delayed at developer's request

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PORTLAND — What was supposed to be the final Planning Board public hearing and vote on the proposed 3.5-acre Midtown housing and retail project was postponed Tuesday.

City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said the hearing and possible vote have been rescheduled for March 3.

Planning Board Chairman Stuart O’Brien said Tuesday the postponement request came from the developers, Miami-based Federated Cos.

“The developer requested more time to address some remaining technical issues,” O’Brien said.

Federated principal Jonathan Cox declined comment on Tuesday. He said he and his partners prefer to speak after the process has been completed.

When it occurs, the vote will be the Planning Board’s second on plans to construct apartments and first-floor shops along Somerset Street in a two-block stretch of city-owned land between Pearl and Elm streets.

The current Midtown plan has a considerably reduced footprint and scope from the one originally submitted by Federated. Four 15-story towers have been reduced to six stories, and the company is proposing building in one phase rather than two or three.

The revised plans have been discussed in workshops since October, with the issue of flooding in the Bayside neighborhood a primary concern for board members.

The city has a financial stake beyond the sale of the land to Federated for $2.4 million; it must also build a $9 million parking garage and will pay about two-thirds of the $4 million cost of elevating Somerset street above projected Federal Emergency Management Agency flood levels.

The effect of elevating Somerset Street has been questioned because of the potential flood hazard to the rest of the area.

The project cost has also been scaled back from about $160 million to $85 million, and a second parking garage has been scrapped. The number of residences was also scaled back, from about 650 to 440, in a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom units. There will also be about 87,000 square feet of first-floor retail space.

Initial Planning Board approval came almost 13 months ago, after a seven-hour hearing. That decision was appealed in Cumberland County Superior Court in February 2014 by a group of neighborhood property owners and activists.

The plaintiffs claimed the city ignored a master plan for Bayside incorporated into the city Comprehensive Plan about 15 years ago, as well as state and federal environmental regulations regarding construction in flood-prone areas.

The lawsuit was put on hold after Cox presented revised plans.

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

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A sketch of the proposed Midtown project on Somerset Street in Portland. The Planning Board on Tuesday postponed a scheduled public hearing and vote on the project.

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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.