Planning Board approves redesigned Midtown

The largest Midtown building as approved seen from Chestnut Street. (Noyes' storage building has been removed for visibility.)

The largest Midtown building as approved seen from Chestnut Street. (Noyes’ storage building has been removed for visibility.)

Tuesday night (3/24/2015) the Portland Planning Board voted 5-1 to approve Midtown, the largest project in decades in the Bayside neighborhood, as modified to satisfy a suit brought by Keep Portland Livable.

Peter Monro, a Keep Portland Livable co-founder, welcomed the Planning Board vote, saying: “This approval is a victory for the public whose strenuous opposition the Planning Board ignored in granting the first set of approvals.

“This redesign is also a victory for a neighborhood seeking to be revitalized by new residents. The new design assures prompt construction of more than 400 market-rate apartments in a neighborhood and a city with an extreme scarcity of vacant apartments.”

Keep Portland Livable formed and sued the city after the Planning Board approved the original project that included four 14-story towers and two massive parking garages despite widespread public opposition. The lawsuit in Superior Court contended that the Board failed to uphold the neighborhood’s Bayside Vision and city ordinances that limit building heights, require passageways in the middle of blocks, and set needs’ tests for waivers.

The original design would have assured construction of only 175 units in a first-phase tower. Since taxpayer subsidies in excess of $9 million would have been totally spent on that first phase, there was no assurance other apartments would be built quickly, or at all.

After initial court hearings in the law suit brought by Bayside residents and property owners, the developer, Jonathan Cox of the Federated Companies, offered to redesign the project. The reconfigured project eliminated one parking garage and lowered the remaining buildings to six stories.

Keep Portland Livable agreed to allow Federated to bring the new plan to the Planning Board without the group’s opposition. The design approved this week was negotiated between the Planning Board and the developer.

During this review, the Planning Board considered among other issues building heights, exterior materials, rooflines, mid-block permeability, and the width and use of the Bayside Trail. The project will extend along Somerset Street from behind Trader Joe’s to Pearl Street across from Whole Food’s parking lot.

“The new design is also a symbol of the re-urbanization of Portland,” said Tim Paradis, the other co-founder of Keep Portland Livable. “This is a high-density complex, with more than one hundred apartment units per acre, that will help repopulate the downtown.”

“Meanwhile, the height is more in line with the traditional building patterns and neighborhood character of Portland,” he continued.

“Since there are well over 100 acres of undeveloped surface parking downtown,” noted Paradis, “this project proves that the city can grow by any imaginable amount without building higher than 6 stories.”

With first-floor retail and sidewalks as wide as 36 feet, the newly approved project will also help the neighborhood become a more walkable, mixed-use district similar to other residential neighborhoods on the peninsula.

In a side agreement with Keep Portland Livable, the City has agreed in coming months to review applicable standards for similarly large projects. Keep Portland Livable also contends that the city needs to adopt a Sea Level Rise plan before permitting further residential developments in areas like the Bayside flats that annual high tides are already flooding.

Concluded Monro: “For now, it’s enough to celebrate the approval of a project that vindicates opponents of the original design, that will help revitalize a neighborhood, and that will test the city’s ability to absorb new market-rate apartments.”

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