South Portland housing agency kills 1 proposal, will revise 2nd

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city Housing Development Corp. has dropped plans to build affordable housing on Ocean Street in Knightville and is revising its plans for a project in Thornton Heights.

“After the workshop on Monday, City Council made it clear that they are not supporting an affordable housing project in Knightville. Although we will be keeping our options open, we will most likely be walking away from the site,” Michael Hulsey, South Portland Housing Authority executive director, said Wednesday.

At a Planning Board meeting, Hulsey also withdrew the application by the SPHDC to build in Thornton Heights, but said the agency intends to come back before the board with a smaller project. 

The SPHDC initially proposed a two-phase development for 76 units at 51-63 Ocean St. in Knightville on April 25.

The first phase would have been built on the site of the Martin’s Point Health Care building at 51 Ocean St. and included a five-story building with commercial or retail space on the first floor, with up to 48 apartments on the floors above.

The proposal was vehemently opposed during a May 9 community meeting hosted by SPHA.

SPHDC removed one floor and late last week proposed a four-story, 48-unit apartment complex at 51 and 63 Ocean St., which included six first-floor work-live units.

The single building would have been built entirely in the existing Village Commercial Zone, facing Ocean Street, with 52 parking spaces and garages for each of the work-live units.

The four-story height and the number of allotted parking spots would have complied with the current zoning. However, the project would have exceeded the residential density limit of 24 units per acre.

The development corporation did not file paperwork with the city, but was hoping the City Council would revise the existing zoning. 

At Monday’s workshop, Councilor Claude Morgan said he had a problem giving guidance to SPHDC because it is “a private developer.” SPHDC, a quasi-governmental agency, is the development branch of the housing authority.

Morgan also said he had a problem making broad decisions based on the needs and timing of one particular project. “We should give ourselves as much time as necessary,” to make this decision, he said.

Morgan’s comments set the tone for the workshop, and the proposal seemed less and less likely to go forward as the discussion progressed.

Residents spoke out against the project, citing traffic, parking, the building’s height, and safety, but others recognized the need for more housing. 

“We are kidding ourselves if we talk about any issue other than parking,” E Street resident Dan Hogan told councilors. “I’m not opposed to density. … Give us lots of people, don’t give us lots of cars.”

Hogan said he liked the combination of retail and living space on the first floor that SPHDC proposed. “It lowers their expenses immeasurably and gives us what we want – life on the street,” he said. 

Chris Kessler, a founder of the South Portland Tenants Association, said the city should increase its housing density.

“The need for housing in the greater Portland area has never been greater,” Kessler said.

He told the council that the city should make an effort to get property owners in nearby Mill Creek to start developing mixed uses in that area. 

“I’m personally getting tired of committees and plans and I want to see action happen now,” Kessler said. 

The SPHDC had also proposed a 2-acre development on Sunset Avenue in Thornton Heights. The proposed development would have included two 14-unit buildings with a mixture of two- and three-bedroom units.

Paperwork has been filed with the city and, on June 8, the Planning Board conducted a site walk at the property, followed by a hearing on the project Tuesday.

Residents at the hearing spoke out against the development, saying the project is too big for their neighborhood. They also cited safety concerns.

Board members echoed some of the residents’ complaints. Member Lindra Boudreau said they were not likely to send a positive recommendation to the City Council and asked how the SPHDC wanted to proceed. 

After discussion and about 1 1/2 hours into the meeting Tuesday, Hulsey withdrew the application.

In an interview Wednesday, he said developers plan to scale the project back and re-submit it for a zoning change, but he did not know when that would happen.

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

A rendering of an apartment building proposed in April on Sunset Avenue in Thornton Heights by the South Portland Housing Authority. The agency this week said it will revise its proposal.

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  • Christopher Kessler

    For the record, I am all for good planning. However, how many committees and master plans do we need before taking serious action as a city?