Portland planners OK hotel, condos for former Commercial Street lumber yard

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PORTLAND — A developer hopes to break ground by the end of June 2018 for redevelopment of the former Rufus T. Deering Lumber Co. at 383 Commercial St.

“We see this being a very exciting project, a linking property from West End to Old Port,” Joe Dasco said Dec. 14, the day after the Planning Board approved the master development plan for the 2.6-acre site.

The master development plan is the overarching guide used for phased development projects. Dasco’s Deering Property Development LLC must still have individual site plans approved for a hotel, condominium and retail elements he plans to build in three phases.

“We are going simultaneously for hotel space and residential building concurrently as soon as possible,” Dasco said. 

The property, bordered by Commercial, High, York and Maple streets, was home to the lumber yard for more than 160 years, until the owners sold the business to Eldridge Lumber and the land to Dasco and his partners about a year ago.

Dasco brought his first concepts to the Planning Board last April, but revised his plans in the summer to include a 139-room hotel at the corner of Beach and Commercial streets instead of 70 housing units. 

Deering Property Development also bought the building at the corner of York and Beach streets, which has been home to Baxter Academy. That will become a conference and events center. 

Ultimately, the master development plan calls for 211 housing units, with 117 built concurrently with the hotel. A third building at the corner of High and Commercial streets will contain 94 units.

Dasco said it is undecided whether any affordable housing will be included as part of the city’s inclusionary zoning rules, or whether developers will opt to pay $100,000 per required unit to the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

Current rules require developers to set aside one in 10 units for affordable housing. Mayor Ethan Strimling hopes to double that requirement, while also reducing the income guidelines for housing pricing.

The change to a hotel and conference center delayed the master development plan process, but Dasco said the real work came in arranging the buildings to prevent a solid mass.

“Mid-block permeability was the biggest challenge,” he said.

Public access between York and Commercial streets will be created via a path between the hotel and first phase of housing, closer to Maple Street. Vehicle access to the hotel will be inbound only from Commercial Street.

Dasco said traffic studies project a 4 percent increase in traffic, but the net effect when considering prior customer traffic at the lumber yard may reduce the total. At least 10 spaces in the parking area that will eventually be the final development phase will be allocated for use by people employed on the waterfront. In all, parking is planned for more than 300 vehicles on two levels.

Developers will also contribute more than $200,000 to traffic control and pedestrian access efforts along Commercial Street, with $150,000 for a new traffic signal at the Commercial Street-High Street intersection. Additionally, $50,000 will be contributed to a multi-use trail along Commercial Street connecting to the Fore River Trail.

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

The housing and hotel at center and right will be the first phases of redevelopment at the former Rufus T. Deering Lumber Co., 383 Commercial St.

The former lumber yard at the corner of Commercial and Maple streets will become a hotel, events center and condominium project. Developers hope to begin work in late spring 2018.

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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.