Portland plans for reduced Reed School redevelopment

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PORTLAND — Despite prior concerns in the neighborhood, the city is moving forward with plans to redevelop Thomas B. Reed School.

Two developers responded to the city’s request for qualifications last summer. One is a collaboration between Avesta Housing and Developers Collaborative LLC; the other is from Community Housing of Maine.

Neighbors of the vacant school at 28 Homestead Ave. expressed reservations about the size of the proposals.

The proposal from Avesta and Developers Collaborative called for 45 units of housing, while Community Housing’s proposal called for 46. After hearing those concerns, city planners decided to slow down the process.

Now, the city is now prepared to go forward with the request-for-proposals process, but with a limited scope on the size of the project.

Christine Grimando, the city’s senior planner, said both proposals sought to use an affordable housing density bonus, which was above the base typically allowed in the R5 zone the city is seeking for the parcel. She said the base for the building without the density bonus would be in the mid-30s.

“We’re talking about how to bring it closer to alignment (with the R5 zone),” she said.

City Councilor David Brenerman, who co-chaired the Reed School Reuse Task Force, said the panel will reconvene again in mid December to explain the RFP process to neighbors and solicit comments. The panel had been disbanded in late June after it sent its proposal to the city’s Housing and Community Development Committee. Brenerman is also vice chairman of the HCDC.

“The idea is to try to create something that is acceptable to most of the people who live in the neighborhood,” Brenerman said.

Since both developers are proposing affordable housing for seniors, they were initially allowed a 25 percent density bonus. Based on neighborhood concerns, Brenerman said, the city would seek to eliminate that density bonus from the RFP process.

“I think 45 to 46 units is a lot to put in that neighborhood, so we’ll eliminate that and then we’ll see what’s proposed for 36 or under,” he said.

One unit of housing per 3,000 square feet is permitted in the proposed zone, which would provide 36 units. Brenerman said the hope is having a smaller project that would be acceptable to the neighbors, but also a project that is economically feasible for the developer.

“The goal is to have a project that impacts the neighborhood in a positive way,” he said, adding the city currently pays to have the empty building heated and maintained. He said as time goes on, a vacant building will become “a blight” on the neighborhood.

“I think bringing it to life will be a positive thing,” Brenerman said.

The city took ownership of the 34,000-square-foot building in 2014. The school, which sits on 2.5 acres, was built in the 1920s, with subsequent additions.

Grimando said the RFP is still in draft form, but the hope is that it will be ready for the task force to review at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 16. Following that, she said developers would likely have four weeks to pull together materials, with some flexibility because of the winter holidays.

Once proposals are in, Grimando said it would take the city “weeks, not months” to make a decision.

Brenerman said there will be multiple opportunities for neighbors and other members of the public to provide feedback during the process. In addition to the task force meeting, the public may also speak during the Planning Board meeting for the parcel’s proposed zone change from R3 to R5, which is needed because R3 does not allow multi-family housing.

The public can also comment during the purchase and sale agreement negotiations at a future City Council meeting, as well as when the Council votes on whether to approve the zone change.

“Even after the RFP is sent out that’s not the end of the process for people in the neighborhood,” Brenerman said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

The vacant Thomas B. Reed School at 28 Homestead Ave., Portland, is expected to be turned into housing.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.