Portland residents contest housing planned at Catherine McAuley High School, former convent

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 1

PORTLAND — A zoning change sought for the 19 acres containing Catherine McAuley High School and a former convent has stirred up the neighborhood.

If approved, it could bring 400-500 new residents to the area between Stevens Avenue, Walton Street and Forest Avenue.

The request by John Wasileski and Matt Teare of Sea Coast Management Co. to increase allowable density at 605 Stevens Ave. received a unanimous Planning Board recommendation May 12.

“The zoning piece is critical, the density is imperative,” Teare said May 15. He said he hopes the City Council can have a first reading of the change on June 1. A public hearing and council vote could follow two weeks later.

The scope of the proposed development, which would add four multi-story buildings on land and playing fields next to the 32-acre Baxter Woods, worries Bobbi Cope, a 60-year neighborhood resident and McAuley alumna.

“This is a walking, biking neighborhood,” Cope said May 14.

Cope has joined with neighbor John Thibodeau and others to form Preserve Deering Neighborhood to contest the zoning change.

“Once it is up, it is a school within a condo complex,” said Thibodeau, who said he moved to the neighborhood about a year ago for its walkable, family friendly lifestyle.

The property is now owned by St. Joseph’s Convent and Hospital, which is part of the Rhode Island-based Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Community. Sea Coast has an agreement that expires June 30, 2016, to buy the property, according to Planning Board documents.

Kevin Bunker, a principal with city-based Developers Collaborative, is also a partner in the project. He will oversee converting the convent, now known as the “Mother House,” into 68 one-bedroom and 20 efficiency units, with 66 marketed as affordable housing.

The agreement does not list a purchase price, and Teare said the information is confidential. Sea Coast subsidiary Motherhouse Associates is also seeking low income housing tax credits from the Maine State Housing Authority.

The tax credits, sold to investors, are critical to the Mother House development, Bunker said. Last year, Motherhouse Associates sought $909,000 in credits granted annually for 10 years. The application is on a MSHA waiting list.

Bunker said May 15 he is seeking the same amount for 2016, while also trying to obtain other senior housing low-income credits distributed through MSHA.

In all, Teare said the developers envision about 330 units, with four new buildings containing about 50 market-rate units each. The buildings closest to the Mother House would be 3 1/2 stories, and those behind it will be taller.

Plans for assisted-living units have been deferred, and construction will be phased over four years, depending on market demand. If the zoning change passes, the project would still require Planning Board site plan approval.

Bunker also converted the former Nathan Clifford School on Falmouth Street into housing. Teare and Wasileski also developed the OceanView at Falmouth senior housing community.

Housing would be marketed to people 55 and older, residents who Teare said would enjoy the local amenities without frequently using vehicles. He estimated the development would house about 400 people. Cope and Thibodeau worry the amount would be closer to 500.

“One bedroom does not always mean one person,” Cope said.

The zoning change would not affect McAuley, which would lose its playing fields to construction. Head of School Kathryn Barr and board of trustees Chairwoman Heidi Osborn have endorsed the change.

“We are excited about the opportunity to have a top-notch inter-generational campus,” Barr said Monday. “We could be at the forefront in the U.S. We see lots of opportunities for mutual learning and teaching.”

The school now has a five-year lease with the Sisters of Mercy, and Sea Coast has offered a minimum 25-year lease that Barr said could benefit future renovations, because donors would know the school has a long-term future on Stevens Avenue.

Thibodeau questioned the designation of senior housing and the size of the proposed project.

“Do you really need 300 condos to make it viable?” he said.

With several schools on Stevens Avenue, including Deering High School and the University of New England, Thibodeau and Cope also want more extensive traffic studies.

“It is the only street in the country where you can go from pre-K to grad school,” Thibodeau said.

Cope and Thibodeau also worry about building next to Baxter Woods, which is a city-owned preserve.

Bunker said if needed, traffic and environmental studies would be part of the site plan review.

“(The Planning Board) looks at all that stuff. If they find we are harming Baxter Woods, they won’t let us put it there,” he said.

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

Sidebar Elements

John Thibodeau and Bobbi Cope are among the Portland resident opposing a zoning change that could bring a housing project to the former St. Joseph’s Convent and surrounding land along Stevens Avenue.

Developers Matt Teare, left, and Kevin Bunker, said the chapel inside the former St. Joseph’s Convent at 605 Stevens Ave. in Portland will be preserved when building is converted into 88 housing units.

A Portland Planning Board drawing depicts the buildings proposed for the Catherine McAuley High School campus at 605 Stevens Ave.

A conceptual sketch shows how the current site of Catharine McAuley High School and a former convent could become home to housing marketed to hundreds of people 55 and older in Portland.

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.