South Portland agency revises Knightville housing proposal

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SOUTH PORTLAND — An affordable housing project proposed for Knightville has been scaled back, but it could still be in jeopardy if the cost can’t be reduced and the city fails to relax density requirements.

South Portland Housing Development, a branch of the city Housing Authority, is now proposing a four-story, 48-unit apartment complex at 51 and 63 Ocean St., including six first-floor work-live units.

The project, however, would still exceed zoning that caps residential density at 24 units per acre.

The City Council on Monday, June 12, at 6:30 p.m. is scheduled to hold a workshop on Knightville zoning. No formal votes can be taken during a workshop.

The original proposal, for 76 units in two phases in a five-story building, received vehement opposition in a May 9 community meeting hosted by SPHA.

Patrizia Bailey, SPHD development director, on June 9 said the new proposal will force the agency to go back to the seller and re-negotiate the contract for the former Martin’s Point Health Care property between B and C streets.

“We are teetering on the brink of it being financially feasible,” Bailey said.

Bailey and Michael Hulsey, executive director of the SPHA, declined to release the purchase price that was negotiated for the land while it is still under contract. Hulsey said SPHA would make the numbers available if the purchase is consummated.

“We have no formal applications into the city,” Bailey added.

The new, single-building proposal would be built entirely in the Village Commercial Zone. The building would face Ocean Street, with 52 parking spaces and garages for each of the work-live units.

Hulsey said the four-story height complies with the existing zoning, although he hopes the City Council will adopt more liberal density requirements in Knightville.

“If the city doesn’t want to address the zoning, then the plan is dead,” Bailey said. “If they address the zoning now, then we have an opportunity.”

Tex Haeuser, planning and development director for the city, said a citywide zoning ordinance requires setting aside 1.5 spaces of off-street parking for muli-family housing. For smaller units the requirement is one space for a one-bedroom residence and 0.75 spaces for studio apartments.

Bailey said under the current conceptual plan, the development provides sufficient parking.

Hulsey said the revised housing proposal includes a combination of market-rate and affordable units. The affordable units, which are not low-income housing, would target renters who make 50-60 percent of the area medium income. Sandra Warren, occupancy specialist for the SPHA, said South Portland’s average annual household income is $83,400.

Hulsey said the apartments would be aimed at individuals or couples living and working in South Portland.

The development would have 12 two-bedroom apartments, 24 one-bedroom apartments, six studios and six work-live units.

Under the new proposal, studio apartments would rent for $640 a month, one-bedroom apartments would rent for $745, and two-bedroom units would rent for $935 to $1,095 monthly.

The work-live units would have work space ranging from 705 square feet to 805 square feet at the front of the building, with 680 square feet of living space behind and a 200-square-foot parking garage. The units would rent for $1,685-$1,800 per month.

“We are trying to do our best to conform to ideas in the neighborhood, although we can’t address those who are 100 percent against it,” Bailey said.

Hulsey said they anticipate the work-live apartments would be well received and have already some good feedback.

“I think this type of housing is important to be in a downtown setting with public transportation. It allows people to live and work without cars,” Hulsey said.

Bailey said if the project goes forward SPHD officials will talk to the city about restoring bus service through Knightville and have other plans to make the project more liveable for residents, such as the use of zip cars in the neighborhood.

The SPHD initially proposed a two-phase development on Ocean Street in Knightville on April 25. The first phase included a five-story building with commercial or retail space on the first floor, with 48 apartments on the floors above. The second phase, planned for 2020, included demolishing the building next door at 63 Ocean St. and erecting a four-story building with 28 apartments or condominiums, as well as retail space at ground level.

Nearly 100 people attended the May 9 community meeting, and many criticized the building height, the parking allocation and the impact on traffic. If the revised project moves forward, Bailey and Hulsey said, SPHA will schedule another meeting with neighborhood residents.

Bailey said they specifically haven’t issued any exterior plans because they want to give residents input into what design elements are important to them.

“We want to design this building with their input … to have a village look,” Bailey said.

“We think it will a wonderful addition to downtown Knightville,” Hulsey added.

The SPHD has also proposed a 2-acre development on Sunset Avenue in Thornton Heights. The proposed development includes two 14-unit buildings with a mixture of two- and three-bedroom units.

It has filed paperwork with the city and, on June 8, the Planning Board conducted a site walk at the property.

“We are trying to do what is best for the residents, and the city of South Portland,” Hulsey said.

 Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

The building scheme of South Portland Housing Development Corp.’s revised four-story proposal for affordable housing at 51 Ocean St. in Knightville.