Portland Planning Board likes proposal for Old Port hotel

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PORTLAND — A plan for a mixed-use development at the former Jordan’s Meats property on India Street was fast-tracked Tuesday, when the Planning Board decided only minor changes are needed before the proposal goes to a public hearing in April. 

Developers said they want to begin construction this spring with the goal of finishing in 2011 – a schedule compressed by Sebago Brewing Co.’s desire to include a 180-seat restaurant in the project.

The board also listened to a presentation by a dozen pier owners who want to rezone the city’s waterfront to allow more non-marine uses. But members expressed concern over protecting public view corridors and developing a way to ensure non-marine uses can subsidize the working waterfront.

Mark Woglom, president of New Hampshire-based Opechee Construction Corp., said his company, Old Port Hospitality, hopes to build a 122-room Hampton Inn hotel on the Jordan’s property.

Woglom said the six-story building would also have up to 12 private, top-floor  condominiums and a 7,000 square-foot restaurant with outdoor cafe-style seating for Sebago Brewing Co., whose lease is expiring on Middle Street in the Old Port.

To meet the aggressive construction timeline, Woglom said he wants to work with city planners to begin moving and separating a combined sewer line prior to project approval.

Board members were generally impressed with the proposal and the applicants’ willingness to respond to staff comments. However, board Chairman Bill Hall cautioned against moving forward without having a complete plan.

“If this could be pretty well baked by the time it comes out of the oven for a public hearing that would be great,” Hall said.

The nearly 97,000-square-foot development would have street-level parking for 90 vehicles on the 1.75-acre site, which would be subdivided for a future development. An additional 18 on-street parking spots would also be added.

Although there are no solid second-phase plans, Woglom said he would like to build a five-story office building with retail shops that would wrap around the lot, facing India, Fore and Middle streets. That  plan may leave room for a townhouse-style row of houses, he said.

“That’s one vision that is largely going to be demand driven,” he said.

Three residents commented on the proposal, two of whom supported the project. The other said he would rather see a more residential use for the site.

Atlantic Street resident Jamie Parker complimented design elements intended to allow pedestrian circulation, but said he wanted developers to take into account efforts to improve the Franklin Arterial corridor.

“The Franklin Street side of the building leaves something to be desired,” Parker said. “I hope the development will recognize the very determined effort underway to make Franklin Street a place people want to be.”

Developers must schedule a neighborhood meeting prior to a public hearing at the board’s first or second meeting in April.

Woglom and his partner, Greg Kirsch, acquired the 1.75-acre property just over a month ago. Their company built the AAA office building on Marginal Way and more recently the Comfort Inn in Scarborough and the Holiday Inn Express in Freeport.

Waterfront

The board also heard from a group of 12 pier owners seeking to change city’s waterfront zoning laws to allow for more non-marine uses.

Dick Ingalls, who represents the pier owners, said a few key elements of the group’s proposal will change as a result of two public hearings last week.

While the previous proposal would have devoted up to half of the approximately 16,000 linear feet of waterfront berthing to non-commercial boats, Ingalls said the group is now proposing using only 100 feet on each pier.

Ingalls said the group is also proposing that new non-marine buildings could be proposed within 150 feet of, and oriented towards, Commercial Street, as long as they do not come within 25 feet of the water.

The proposed changes would still require at least half of first-floor building space to be devoted to marine uses, while allowing other commercial uses on the upper floors.

Ingalls said that expanding non-marine uses would be an effective way to give pier owners more revenue to reinvest into their piers.

“We’re trying to keep the port in Portland,” he said.

However, Planning Board member Michael Patterson said there is no clear mechanism to require a specific level of reinvestment. Along with several other board members, he also questioned a proposal to strike language from the current law that protects public view corridors.

Pier owner Charlie Poole said that public access on a working waterfront needs to be limited, because of liability issues. He said the change is needed so viable development projects would not be thwarted because an off-site landowner wants to see the ocean.

“The intent is not to take away view,” Poole said. “You’d just hate to see a good (development) opportunity lost because you’re going to block some guy’s view across the street.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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