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Redfern Properties is proposing a 320-unit apartment building on Washington Avenue that would create 80 additional workforce apartments, but construction of the seven-story building would require a zoning change. Rendering courtesy of Redfern Properties

A Portland developer plans to build more than 300 apartments in the city’s East End, including 80 workforce housing units, but the seven-story building will require a zoning change.

Jonathan Culley, managing partner of Redfern Properties, said the 165 Washington Ave., 170,000-square-foot project will be one of the largest in the city and will help meet a “tremendous need” for workforce housing.

The project, located on the former Northern Burner Supply site, is planned to include 324 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments above some small retail space. Of the 324 units, 80 are planned to be designated as “workforce housing,” meaning they are affordable for people earning less than 80% of the area median income.

The rest would be affordable for people earning 80 to 100 percent of the region’s average income.

According to the city, the median income in the area is $68,500 for a single person and $78,250 for two people. Rents for workforce housing start at or below $1,721 per month, and market-rate housing starts at about $2,231.

Culley said the intention is to offer the apartments at the lowest market rates in the city, and although only 80 of them are zoned as workforce housing, he wants them to remain affordable for the influx of graduate students attending the University of New England and the Roux Institute.

“These are not 240 luxury units,” he said.

The building would provide needed housing as the city grapples with an ongoing and worsening housing crisis. As proposed, however, its 75-foot height would exceed the four-story, or 45-foot, maximum allowed in the neighborhood.

Redfern is seeking a zoning change to allow for the additional 30 feet. Culley is confident the request will be well received because it is the same zoning change proposed in the city’s ReCode, an ongoing project to update the city’s zoning regulations.

Culley said he is closely watching the ReCode process but is requesting a zoning change now because he has a tight building schedule and it is unclear how long the ReCode will take. He hopes to start construction on the Washington Avenue project in the first quarter of 2025 and expects construction to take two years.

Although he is confident of receiving the city’s support, some residents are resisting the proposed zoning changes.

At a recent open day to discuss the ReCode, certain sections of Washington Avenue were criticized in particular: the area was too densely built up, the buildings were too tall and the parking situation could be negatively affected.

A Portland Press Herald op-ed last month lamented that “a proposed zoning change for Washington Avenue could deprive residents and visitors alike of their beloved 180-degree view (of the park).”

Culley doesn’t let himself be deterred.

FOCUS ON PEDESTRIAN-FREE HOUSING

“The benefits to the people who will live here far outweigh the impacts to the people who already live here,” he said, adding that the southeast wing of the building will be shortened to four stories to preserve views for Munjoy Hill neighbors.

“This is a former industrial site on a major transportation corridor that is well-suited to large-scale development. The city is constantly changing to meet the needs of society, and we will not begin to solve our housing and climate crises until we prioritize dense, walkable housing over a static view of our city’s character.”

The apartments would be small – 28 to 65 square meters – which Culley said helps keep costs down.

The building, which will have over 300 residential units, will only have 20 to 30 parking spaces, which he said was intentional given the “pedestrian-friendly neighborhood on a traffic corridor.”

“Our goal is to accommodate people, not cars,” he said.

He envisions a deli, cafe or market in the ground-floor retail space, but says retail can be challenging. He hopes the project will essentially extend Washington Avenue toward Interstate 295, helping to create more demand.

A Planning Committee meeting to discuss the proposed zoning change has not been scheduled.

Two other major Redfern projects are moving forward. The Nightingale, 260 apartments in the former Northern Light Mercy Hospital building, is nearly full, Culley said, and the Casco, the 18-story building with about 260 apartments on Federal Street that is considered the tallest building in Maine, is about two-thirds full.


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