2018-06-15 / Front Page

Developer named for old public works property

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — After more than a year of preparation, the South Portland City Council has picked a developer to remake the former public works complex on O’Neil Street, but not everyone is happy with the decision.

At a June 5 meeting, the council voted 6-1 to award the bid to Windward Development LLC, a firm headed up by Deake Street resident Ed Rowe, and Rich Simon of Newcastle. They put in a $400,000 bid for the six-acre site, submitting a proposal for 36 housing units, broken into eight single-family homes and three larger buildings, to include 16 townhouses and 12 condominiums.

Rowe said he expects to spend $1.6 million on the project, to be designed by Mark Mueller Architects of Portland, with additional work from Northeast Civil Solutions of Scarborough and Campbell Environmental of Falmouth.

Only one other response was submitted to the city’s request for proposal, from M & V Enterprises, headed by Mark Loring and Vincent Maietta, both of South Portland. Maietta is in the process of creating several large apartment buildings on the city’s west end. His design was for 37 units, including 13 single-family homes, five duplexes and five multi-family buildings.

M&V offered $200,000 for the property – half the Windward offer – but estimated taxes on the 37 units it would build to net $203,500 in revenue per year for the city, based on the current mil rate $18.3 per $1,000 of valuation. Windward estimated potential property tax income from its design to top out at $175,000.

The M&V proposal was not discussed at the June 5 meeting, as the council was asked only to weigh the recommendation of a seven-member selection committee, which scored both proposals and put forth Windward as its preference. At the meeting, a number of residents spoke out against the plan that was unveiled, saying it the project was too outsized in comparison to surrounding homes. Meanwhile, some members of the ad hoc O’Neil Street Facility Re-use Planning Committee complained of being effectively shut out of decision making once their work recommending building criteria was completed in January, and their number pared down to the few who joined city staffers on the selection committee.

“I think we are putting the cart before the horse here and I don’t quite get the process,” said Hillside Avenue resident Steve Marston, who had served on the larger re-use committee.

“We spent months and months talking about everything and I don’t recall anything ever getting any higher than two stories. The rumor is that we are going to get four five-story buildings down there,” Marston said, citing a oft-raised concern among his peers that after months of work, they ended up having little knowledge and zero input on what was ultimately picked to go on the site.

“A lot of what was talked about was to try and keep the neighborhood ‘the neighborhood,’” Walnut Street resident Jack Raposa said. “To me, none of this plan with the apartment buildings and condos was really part of the discussion with the larger committee.”

“I’m also confused that we are giving the OK to a developer when, sadly, we only got two proposals after all the work we did,” Tony Pellegrino said, also raising a fear that what was in the Windward pitch might not even be what is finally built.

“Once you’ve chosen somebody, what leverage do you have?” he asked.

As one example, the plan submitted by Windward included a skateboard park, but councilors were advised to disregard that as it would likely be excised from the final plan. What might go in its place, and what other changes may be made, seemed to hang in the air as an open question, although city officials stressed repeatedly that whatever gets built will have to go through a site plan review process before the planning board, as well as a contract zoning amendment agreed to by the city council, with several public hearings and opportunities for public feedback along the way.

Still, others questioned the exact form proposal solar powered units might take, and the exact traffic circulation pattern in and out of surrounding streets.

“I would encourage people to support this,” said Councilor Kate Lewis, who helped score the competing proposals.

“This is just the first step in a multitiered process that will receive multiple reviews,” she said.

However, rather than put the re-use committee preferences into an RFP and depend on the whim of developer interpretation, some said it might have been better to codify design standards into some form of overlay zoning district to better lock in redevelopment restrictions. Others suggested the low number of bids was reason enough for a complete do-over.

Whatever the exact dissatisfaction, the discord alone was good cause to vote no, according to Councilor Eben Rose, the lone dissenting vote for the project.

“It’s not a very transparent process,” he said, referencing the lack of input from the full re-use committee after it handing it its report in January, and the lack of detail provided on the competing bid.

“I say let’s put the brakes on this,” Rose said. “There’s no rush on this. I’m not saying this (Windward) development prop is good or bad, but I thought we were engaging in this consensus-building process. To now have this kind of dissent this late in the game is concerning.”

Still, Councilor Claude Morgan suggested residents were asking too much if they expected a developer to simply fill in the site with single-family homes that look exactly like the homes that surround the property, especially given the added development cost of tearing apart the old public works facility that lived on the site for more than a century.

“It will never look like the neighborhood. It just won’t,” he said. “We can’t go and just varnish new buildings to look like old buildings.”

Rose disagreed.

“All the blueprints and designs for American craftsmanstyle homes did not go away in the 1940s,” he said.

In the end, Mayor Linda Cohen said expecting everyone to love the redevelopment plan, in whatever form it takes, was probably too much to hope for.

“The housing authority project (to develop the former St. John’s church site) went through a long process of neighborhood input, too, and in the end there was not neighborhood consensus there either,” she said. “I think if we believe there is ever going to be 100 percent buy-in from everybody in a neighborhood on a project, we may hope for it, but it’s not going to be.”

The June 5 vote authorized City Manager Scott Morelli to proceed with negotiating a deal with Windward. Per the terms of the deal, the company had 14 days from the council vote to sign a purchase and sale agreement finalizing the sale price and ironing out terms of the exchange.

Even so, the final sale of the property to Windward will not occur until the planning board works through its process and the council approves whatever zoning amendments might be required, Morelli said.

Although not made available to the council at the time of its vote, apart from the final aggregate score of 86.75 out of a possible 100 for Windward, and 71.71 for M&V, individual scoring sheets used by the nine-member review committee were later released by the city.

Names of committee members were not tied to the scores, but the sheets show Windward outpacing M&V on all three scoring areas graded by six of the seven reviewers.

These three areas included a maximum of 40 points for vision, design process, and consistency with the RFP, 35 points for developer experience and qualifications, and 25 points for financial capacity and tax benefit to the city from redevelopment in private hands of a site that, as city land, has never been on the tax rolls.

One reviewer, “Member 7” gave M&V slightly better marks on all three areas, favoring it 95-60 over Windward. All others gave marginally more points to Windward, while two scored the firms equally on experience and qualifications. One outlier, however, “Member 5,” awarded near maximum points to Windward while scoring M&V in the single digits.

The comparison of M&V to Windward broke down as 82- 87 (Member 1), 78-91 (Member 2), 71-93 (Member 3), 73- 100 (Member 4), 18-80 (Member 5), 85-95 (Member 6), and 95-60 (Member 7).

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