South Portland Planning Board action delayed on DHHS building

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Planning Board members on Tuesday got a good look at plans to build a new state office building near the Portland International Jetport, but won’t be asked to fully approve the plan for almost another month.

Ken Cianchette, representing Jetport State Building LLC, a subsidiary of ELC Management, said the company is poised to build a two-story building, but will wait until Feb. 25 to seek site plan approval.

The delay is caused by negotiations to create additional access to the planned 75,000-square-foot building, which will be leased for 30 years by the state departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, and the Workers Compensation Board.

ELC Management is headed by Cianchette’s brother, Eric Cianchette.

City Planning Director Tex Haueser said the project is estimated to cost $9.8 million, will have parking for 450 vehicles and rack space for 30 bicycles, and the city will insist a bus shelter is built at the site.

The state signed the lease Jan. 2 with an expectation it will save more than $23 million over anticipated lease costs at the current offices at 161 Marginal Way and 185 and 200 Lancaster St. in Portland.

The consolidation of offices was proposed last summer and drew four bids, two each from Portland and South Portland. The ELC proposal scored highest in weighted comparisons of location, building quality, management experience and other factors, including available parking.

The decision to move to South Portland has been challenged in a lawsuit filed in Cumberland County Superior Court by Tom Toye, the owner of the Lancaster Street buildings. In his complaint, Toye called the bid scoring “arbitrary and capricious.” His bid scored lowest of the four.

When the move was announced last November, Maine Bureau of General Services spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said the consolidation would better serve Cumberland County and allow DHHS clients better access to job training and other resources at the Department of Labor.

But the move has been criticized by Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and state Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, as a shift to a less accessible location that will leave vulnerable clients without proper access to needed services.

In November, it was estimated the Portland DHHS office served almost 61,000 clients, with 36 percent of them Portland residents. More than 22,000 Portland residents walked to the DHHS Bayside office. The Jetport site is served by one Portland Metro bus line and none from South Portland.

Roosevelt School recommendation

Before tabling the site plan vote for the DHHS offices, the board unanimously recommended that the City Council amend zoning to allow the renovation and expansion of the former Roosevelt School at 317 Pine St. to 19 housing units.

The city sold the 87-year-old school to Ethan Boxer-Macomber of Anew Property Development last month for $218,500. Macomber will still need site plan approval to convert the school into housing, but expanding housing density on the 1.74 acres requires City Council approval.

The board heard from Boxer-Macomber about his plans, but was reminded by board member Rob Schreiber that the focus was the zoning question and project details could be considered at a future date.

Pine Street resident Pam Libby asked the board to require Boxer-Macomber to post a $1 million bond to pay for any collateral damages to neighbors the renovation could cause, especially if blasting is needed.

Her request was passed along with the favorable, non-binding recommendation, while Boxer-Macomber assured the board the work would be done without blasting.

The 18,000-square-foot school had been leased to the Spurwink School for about 27 years before the school closed in 2012. Boxer-Macomber also plans to build an addition to the school while continuing to allow public access across the property.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.