Proposals for Reed 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 task force was originally charged to recommend ways to reuse the vacant Thomas B. Reed School on 28 Homestead Ave. in the Riverton neighborhood.

The Dec. 16 task force 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 construct senior housing units.

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. However, neighbors said too many units were proposed, so city planners decided to limit the project. The maximum number of units that can be built in Reed is 36.

But residents, including members of the task force, still think the number is too high. Dyan Albano, a neighborhood resident who is on the task force, said the neighbors had been expecting something closer to the Nathan Clifford school project, which turned that empty school into 22 units of housing.

Elise Scala, who lives nearby and is also a member of the task force, said she wanted the RFP to limit the density to 24 units and ensure an adequate amount of open space is preserved.

Neighborhood resident and task force member Mark Johnson said the market dictated the responses the city received. He said even after an “open-ended” RFQ process, 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 intended to be final proposals.

“Thirty-six units may be too many for the neighborhood to tolerate,” Brenerman conceded, adding that even after the city chooses a developer the size of the project can be negotiated.

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

However, Brenerman told the task force that the city has no intention of retaining the building, which it has owned since 2014. He said inadequate proposals could be rejected by the City Council and, if no bids are received, the RFP will be changed.

Christine Grimando, the city’s senior planner, said she did not believe there will be “an infinite time line” for selling the building. This will be the second winter the city will own the building, for which taxpayers are paying heat and maintainance.

“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 knocked down, Grimando said 16 single-family houses could be built on the site, based on calculating a 2.5-acre parcel in the R-3 residential zone. The city is seeking to change the zone of the parcel to R-5 in order to allow multi-family housing.

According to Grimando, in conjuction with the task force meeting, the city will continue forward with the RFP phase of the project. Grimando said the RFP, which is still in the early stages, will need to address parking. Input from the meeting will be used to finalize the RFP.

Jennings, who was appointed city manager around the same time the task force had initially concluded its work, said it was “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 an 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