Proposals for former Portland school continue to disappoint neighbors

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PORTLAND — The Reed School Reuse Advisory Task Force, which met last week for the first time since June, will reconvene at least once more at the request of City Manager Jon Jennings.

The panel is charged with coming up with recommendations for the reuse of the vacant Thomas B. Reed School at 28 Homestead Ave. in the Riverton neighborhood.

The Dec. 16 meeting was called to look at a draft request for proposals and solicit public input. 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. Both are proposing to create senior housing.

Both draft proposals sought to make use of an affordable housing density bonus, which would have allowed 25 percent more units. The proposal from Avesta and Developers Collaborative called for 45 units of housing, while Community Housing’s proposal called for 46.

But neighborhood residents said both proposals were too large, so city planners decided to cut back. The maximum number of units that can be built is now 36.

But neighbors, including members of the task force, still think that number is too high.

Dyan Albano, a resident who is on the task force, said the neighborhood was expecting something closer to the Nathan Clifford school project, which turned an empty school in 22 units of housing.

Elise Scala, a resident and task force member, said she wanted the RFP to limit the density to 24 units, and ensure an adequate amount of open space.

Neighborhood resident and task force member Mark Johnson said the market dictated the responses they city received. He noted that the city only received the two responses, both of which were for senior housing.

“The city is not in a position to enforce development,” he said.

City Councilor David Brenerman, who co-chairs the task force, said the proposed designs are not considered final, and “36 units may be too many for the neighborhood to tolerate.” He said even after the city chooses a developer, there can still be changes to the size of the project.

“It’s not over even after the RFP goes out,” he said. “There is still room for negotiations.”

However, Brenerman said the city has no intention of retaining the building, which it has held since 2014. He said if the proposals the city receives are not adequate, the City Council will reject them. He said if no bids come in, councilors will have to change what they’re asking for.

Christine Grimando, the city’s senior planner, said she did not believe there will be “an infinite time line” for selling the building. She said this will be the city’s second winter holding the building, which costs money for heating and maintenance.

“It’s not getting in any better shape,” Grimando said.

In the event the 34,000-square-foot building, which was built in the 1920s, is demolished, Grimando said 16 single-family houses could be built in the R-3 residential zone. The city is seeking to change the zoning of the parcel to R-5 in order to allow multi-family housing.

Grimando said staff would take input from the meeting and continue to finalize the RFP.

Jennings, who was appointed city manager around the same time the task force initially concluded its work, said it is “important” for the task force to meet at least once more before the RFP is sent out.

“Let us see what we can do and bring it back,” he said.

However, Jennings added that at some point the process will “have to come to and end.”

“At the end of the day, the city will have to make a decision,” he said.

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

The vacant Thomas B. Reed School at 28 Homestead Ave. in Portland. The is continuing a process to turn the building 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