South Portland panel to make recommendation for former public works land

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The committee considering redevelopment of the former O’Neil Street public works headquarters expects to present its vision for the six-acre property to the City Council in January.

With public works now housed on Highland Avenue, the property in the Meetinghouse Hill neighborhood retains several vacant buildings. With the exception of one building on Pitts Street, all are in disrepair, according to engineer and redevelopment committee member Owens McCollough.

Tex Haeuser, the city planning and development director, said the ideal is a housing development that is affordable for middle-income earners and a multi-generational demographic.

Open and green space is also an important consideration, and the committee would like to see a balance between open space and construction, with playgrounds, a community garden and park.

Haeuser said the design of the development and building materials should be ecologically focused, with energy efficiency a consideration.

Feedback from several developers included recommendations such as connecting O’Neil Street and Pitt Street, maximizing green space and the buildable area, as well as cautioning the city not to be too prescriptive in what it wants at the site, Haeuser and committee member Laura Moorehouse said.

Rezoning specific to the redevelopment would be necessary, however, because under the current zoning, a development of homes similar to the surrounding area would not be permitted, Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny said Thursday. 

The concern is that without a zoning change, the property could be dotted with a handful of “McMansions,” Reny said. 

He said the city will not set a minimum price for the property, which is assessed at $1.5 million, with a land value of $788,300, according to city tax records. 

Moorehouse said she was happy to present the evolution of the re-use planning process Wednesday at Brown Elementary School, in the second of two meetings on the process. She said the committee’s recommendations will be presented to the City Council in January.

A boundary survey, an environmental review, traffic study and meetings with five potential developers have occurred and will inform the committee’s recommendations to the council, she said.

A developer may be chosen as early as January or February, Moorehouse added. 

The 13-member panel includes city staff, Planning Board members, neighbors and consultants, Moorehouse said. The group will no longer meet to discuss the redevelopment, but will remain involved in a selection committee when a developer is chosen.

“We have a vested interest that the right thing happens,” she said.

McCollough said a soil management plan by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection will be in place during excavation, since contaminants such as petroleum were found in the soil. No wells will be allowed at the site, but the property is serviced by public water.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext., 106 or jlaaka@theforecaster.net.

The former public works site on O’Neil Street in South Portland. A committee will make redevelopment recommendations to the City Council in January. 

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