Portland Planning Board approves outer Congress St. office complex

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PORTLAND — Construction of a office complex in Stroudwater could begin early in 2017, after the Planning Board approved the site plan Sept. 20.

Northland Enterprises will buy Portland Elks Lodge 188 at 1945 Congress St. for $1.25 million, and build a 25,000-square-foot office building to become the new home for Clark Insurance.

“It feels great. It has been so long, it was surreal waiting for the vote to happen,” developer Josh Benthien said Tuesday.

A second, 15,000-square-foot building will become the new office for Dr. Michael Bedecs and other tenants. The Elks Lodge will remain, but more than 10,000 square feet will be demolished. The development site will be just less than 8 acres.

Westbrook Street resident and former Planning Board member David Silk said Tuesday the site plan approval had some conditions that helped satisfy some neighbors.

A key condition is the requirement for additional Planning Board approval for any new use of the Elks Lodge if the fraternal organization moves or the lodge closes.

“That is very important to the folks in the neighborhood,” Silk said, because a new site plan could require more open and green space and additional protections for a stream that flows to the Stroudwater River from behind the property.

Northland will also be required to contribute $11,000 to fund pedestrian improvements on nearby Garrison and Westbrook streets, and to improve traffic signal timing at Congress Street and Unum Drive.

Also key to the plans was Northland’s agreement to shift the medical offices from directly facing Congress Street to 15-20 feet back from the road, so the building would not be directly in the view from nearby homes.

“There is some nice, dense buffering,” Silk said.

Benthien said the changes and conditions, as well as a waiver that allowed 47 percent of parking spaces to fit compact vehicles (an increase from the required 20 percent) were an effort to work with neighbors.

The City Council approved rezoning the area in January, but neighbors, including members of the Stroudwater Neighborhood Association, had objected to the original plans and sought to have the property used for housing.

“It was a long process, but city staff in particular was amazing,” Benthien said. “As frustrating as it was at times, staff really did listen to the neighbors.”

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

The Portland Planning Board on Sept. 20 approved plans for two office buildings at the Elks Lodge property at 1945 Congress St.

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.