Portland officials question plan for York Street condos

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PORTLAND — City officials have some concerns about a developer’s plan to build an approximately $2 million, seven-unit condominium complex at 121 York St.

The plan submitted by Redfern Properties was scheduled to be reviewed in a work session Tuesday by the Planning Board.

Questions about the proposal include whether the project meets zoning standards and whether emergency responders would have adequate access to the property.

There is now a three-story brick apartment building with 12 units and a gravel parking lot on the property, which is at the foot of the Casco Bay Bridge between Park and High streets.

Planning documents show a three- or four-story building constructed behind the gravel lot, extending along what is now a tree- and brush-covered rectangular corridor.

The complex would reach the 45-foot height limit allowed in the zone and meet the minimum 10-foot side-yard setbacks and 20-foot backyard setback.

But Zoning Administrator Marge Schmuckal said in a letter to developers that the plans contain one more housing unit than zoning allows.

She also questioned whether it would truly be a three-story building, as described in the plans, or a four-story building, which would require increased setbacks. 

The existing parking lot is proposed to be paved over and fenced. But city Traffic Engineer Thomas Errico raised concerns about whether the fence would create a traffic and pedestrian hazard by reducing sight lines along York Street.

The Fire Department, meanwhile, said the narrow proposed width of the travel lane in the parking lot could impact its ability to respond to emergencies.

Jonathan Culley, of Redfern Properties, said he is willing to work with the city to address the concerns.

However, Culley said his team believes the zoning ordinance allows seven units in the building, rather than the city’s claim that only six are allowed.

“We think it’s a progressive in-fill development,” Culley said. “We think at think at the end of the day we will be allowed to do seven new units.”

He said he also plans to defend the company’s position that the development is not a four-story building requiring greater setbacks, but is a three-story building with a mezzanine level.

Although city officials have also questioned the building’s location at the back of the lot, Culley said that is the only way the development is viable.

Culley said he would like to break ground on project, which will be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, this fall and be finished by next spring.

“Whether or not we certify LEED is an open question,” he said, “but it will certainly be built to that standard.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.